LMA P3 Conference: Project management for law firms is gaining acceptance

A conference that offered information to help lawyers change the way they manage their law firm started, interestingly, with an observation on how much lawyers hate change.

The Legal Marketing Association’s P3 Conference is designed to help lawyers modernize and become more efficient through the use of technology and strategy. P3 stands for pricing, project management and process improvement. And despite their reputation, more and more lawyers are embracing change: Some 375 attended this year’s conference in Chicago, a 40 percent increase over the year before. This is the third year of the conference, which featured sessions on Pricing and Profitability 101, a Process Mapping Workshop, and The Top Five Things Corporate Legal Departments and Law Firms Can Do Together.

Toby Brown, chief practice officer at Akin Gump, and Amar Sarwal, vice president and chief legal strategist of the Association of Corporate Counsel, opened the meeting looking toward the future of the 3 Ps. As Brown said, several studies show that lawyers are more resistant to change than the general population – and for good reason. The legal profession is built on precedent, which means looking back. The trouble with that, Brown pointed out, is that it’s like driving a car without watching the road.

The P3 community, Brown said, is the tip of the spear of change in the legal community, with a focus on management of schedule, risk and cost. Project management encourages integration of planning, budget, communication and all the other aspects of running an office. The downside of project management is that it requires a significant investment of time and money to put in place. But the positives, Brown said, include long-term efficiencies and an increase in profits.

Sarwal, the second speaker at the session, spoke about corporate clients’ growing frustration with their outside counsel, who are increasingly seen as overly expensive and not as essential to in-house lawyers as they once were.

One issue for the profession, Sarwal said, is that there is no single description of a good lawyer. Bar associations, with rules that set different standards from state to state, don’t help the situation. Law schools evade national guidelines. An indication of the confusion this creates is the profusion of legal directories that purport to list the best firms, although they, too, are based on disparate standards.

New business models are emerging that threaten the status quo, with non-lawyers starting firms, some lawyers joining forces in virtual firms to lower overhead, and still others outsourcing to other countries as another way to lower costs. Again, there is no agreement about whether these solutions are good for either lawyers or their clients.

The consensus is growing, however, that change will come – with the only question being who will be left in the dust. There are probably several answers that will lead to many viable solutions. And that is what the P3 conference represents: a search for a vital and profitable future.


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