Should Lawyers be Project Managers?

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Law Firms, Legal Project Management, Talent Development


More than four years ago, my colleague Carla Landry published a blog entitled “Is it Possible to Turn Lawyers into Project Managers? Or will they Crash and Burn??” Legal Project Management (LPM) was starting to get attention at the time, but didn’t yet have momentum. LPM quickly moved past being a “hot” topic to being a recognized necessity for delivering legal services today. We still hear the same question: Who should be the project manager? Our answer… that depends.

First, what is a project manager? In the legal arena, a project manager is a member of the project team who is responsible for guiding, leading and monitoring the “business” side of delivering legal service. Responsibilities and tasks typically include:

  • Analyzing the stakeholders;
  • Developing a project charter/scope of work document;
  • Developing a project plan (including a work breakdown structure and budget);
  • Monitoring the completion of tasks for the matter and other updates throughout a matter (g., changes in the stakeholders, risk assessment, budget, scope changes, etc.);
  • Monitoring the matter against timelines, deadlines, and budget;
  • Ensuring sufficient communication with the client and matter team; and
  • Reviewing the matter at the end to determine lessons learned and work product developed.

The project manager does not have to do all of these things, but does need to ensure that someone on the project team is responsible for each of them.

So, a commonly asked question at our LawVision Legal Project Management Roundtable (where this continues to be a frequent topic), is “who should be responsible for managing the matter?” Should it be a lawyer trained in LPM or another highly respected legal professional?

There are firms who have been very successful in implementing LPM, such as Seyfarth Shaw LLP who have hired more than 20 professionals (not lawyers by background) to be project managers for many of the matters the firm handles. Other firms (including Reed Smith, Baker Donelson, Chapman & Cutler, Mayer Brown, to name a few) have hired project managers (some lawyers by background, others not) to help the practicing lawyers implement LPM techniques.

Some firms believe that a new “role” of lawyers on matter teams is to be a project manager or to “project manage” the matter.

However, in other firms, the approach to LPM is different. Some firms believe that a new “role” of lawyers on matter teams is to be a project manager or to “project manage” the matter. While these firms often have professionals who are leading the LPM initiatives or pilot projects (e.g., deciding upon tools, helping achieve partner buy-in, or other functions) who are not lawyers, they believe that the ones best suited to the role of a project manager are lawyers. Lawyers in these firms wear two hats on a matter—one hat as a practicing lawyer on the matter team, not necessarily the lead partner, and a second hat as the person designated as the project manager for that matter.

Is there a “right” answer? Not exactly. Part of what is “right” depends on the firm’s culture. Some law firms prefer to have lawyers (current or former practicing ones) fill many of their “lawyer-facing” management roles. In other law firms, they welcome the perspectives of business professionals who have diverse backgrounds (e.g., finance, human resources, investments, health care, construction, accounting and more). In those firms, a project manager who has played project manager roles in a Big 4 consulting firm, an architectural firm or another business can be well received and may be very successful in helping to manage legal teams.

Who should be your firm’s project manager? What makes sense in your culture?

Carla Landry, a Senior Consultant at the LawVision Group, contributed to this blog post.