Thursday, March 15, 2012

LPM, Lawyers and Project Managers

A 4 year college degree, plus 2-3 years of work experience and class work (4,500 hours to be exact), on-going education needed to maintain your standing, and passing a brutal 4 hour - 200 question entrance exam (that has created a cottage industry for exam prep). 

What does this sound like? No, it's not a newly proposed format for earning your JD.  It's the requirements to achieve the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, but as you can see earning this certification is not trivial.

But listening to some of the banter about LPM lately, what does seem to be somewhat trivialized is a lawyer's ability to Vulcan mind-meld this amount of experience and education in a few training sessions and come out a good project manager suitable of carrying forward a firm's LPM program goals. Does one need to earn a PMP to be a competent PM?  Certainly not, but on the flip side is it realistic to expect someone to go through a few hours of training and be good at something that others do as a career? Can they learn the basics and become conversant on the topic with clients, certainly. Can some absorb it all and instantly integrate the teachings into their daily practice - it's possible, but not likely and certainly not likely on a firmwide level. We already have lawyers doing enough jobs, some of which you could argue they aren't ideally suited for, so why do we add on this to the list?

We are already seeing firms get smart about this and leave certain jobs to the pros, take pricing for example.  There are at least 12 large firms with dedicated pricing professionals, people with finance backgrounds, very few of whom are lawyers.  My firm, Vinson & Elkins, Bracewell, Fish & Richardson,  Baker McKenzie, Bryan Cave, Goodwin Proctor, Dechert, King & Spalding, Ogletree, Mayer Brown and Winston all have groups like this - with more on the way.  We saw the first 'non-lawyer' CEO hired this year at Pepper Hamilton (by the way, can we come up with something better than 'non-lawyer'?).  The point is, I believe there's a trend where law firms are starting to realize that there are better ways to fill these roles - PM should be viewed similarly.

Some lawyers argue that they already do project management and have no need to be trained. Tell that to the litany of folks that have been involved in large projects (IT projects, office moves, insert 'big project here') where the people PM themselves and the ones with a dedicated PM - there's no comparison. People that have experienced what a well trained, experienced PM can bring to the table know the difference, the problem is that many lawyers have never gone through the experience - they don't know what they don't know. 

Sometimes when I'm posed with challenging business issues, I like to look outside legal and see what our counterparts in other related verticals are doing, as I tend to think they take more 'business minded' approaches to things.  Interesting that when I did a search in LinkedIn for the title 'project manager' Accenture, Deloitte, KPMG and E&Y cumulatively have over 1,000 people currently in this role. They can't all be doing internal PM on IT projects and office moves....

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