Just being a lawyer no longer enough
King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) has announced it will be training almost 500 lawyers as project managers in line with client demand for more certainty in relation to time and costs.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, KWM managing partner Beau Deleuil (pictured) said the firm will be partnering with global legal project management training firm Edge Consulting to put 480 third-year and above lawyers through their project management paces.
“Clients, particularly big project clients, routinely use project skills in their organisations to bring in projects on budget and on time,” said Deleuil.
“Until recently, this was an anomaly in the Australian legal market. This is about aligning our business, and the way we operate our business and provide services, with the way the client is running its own business. It’s as simple as that. Project management for lawyers: it’s new. It’s not something we have traditionally done in a recognised way.”
Deleuil said lawyers with more than three years’ experience can apply to receive the training, with those who are interested able to gain an official project management accreditation.
A key element of the program, said Deleuil, is to give clients transparency over how their matters are being managed and how their budget is tracking.
“We will be able to present options to our clients, and empower them to decide what needs to be prioritised and how they want their budget spent,” he said.
“The key benefits for clients are that they will see a new way of delivering legal services in a manner that gives them confidence, and we think that will be pretty revolutionary in the evolution of the market. It’s a step-change in the level of confidence and appeal in obtaining legal services in significant matters.”
While lawyers will be able to undertake the training on a voluntary basis, Deleuil said he believes it will eventually become something everyone chooses to do.
“It will be a case of, ‘Why not?’ when we get to a point of penetration into the business,” he said.
“Why wouldn’t you do this? My strong view is that the early adopters of this, who volunteer for it, run at it and implement it, will lead the pack internally and externally. They will be speaking a language that clients get. They will gain confidence in what they are doing, and I think this will become the new normal.”
This “new normal” will not be restricted to within KWM, said Deleuil, who can see client demand for project management-qualified lawyers becoming commonplace.
“We often share the same clients with other firms, so I can readily see general counsel saying, ‘KWM does this. Why don’t you?’ That’s a very foreseeable outcome, so I expect that other firms will have to catch up,” he said. “Our sense is that we are leading the way, like we did with legal process outsourcing – and it’s all about the client.”
All about the client
All in all, Deleuil believes it’s a great time to be a client, largely due to the entry of new firms into the legal service market which has created new brands and more choice for clients. Coupled with increased pressures to manage and minimise their legal spend due to tough economic conditions, firms are being forced to consistently demonstrate value for money and deep business insight.
But Deleuil said the demand for project management skills is not just coming from clients.
“It’s a pretty exciting time to be a law firm, because the forces for innovation and change are, while challenging, incredibly exciting,” he said.
“Our lawyers want to wake up in the morning and hear that we are the first in the game in this space, and we’ve committed the incredible resources of our firm to stand behind it and implement it.
“It’s a step-change in evolving the role of a lawyer from just giving legal advice to delivering client needs and becoming part of the project, rather than being an outsider in that space. Young lawyers in particular are looking for greater opportunities to become part of a client’s business and this gives them an interface to do that.”
Clients, too, have welcomed the initiative.
“The program is an innovative move by King & Wood Mallesons and a very welcome one,” said Nathan Butler, general counsel corporate legal for NAB. “It builds on the level of communication between internal and external teams that is critical to effective practice management, and enables lawyers to focus on broader commercial objectives rather than just providing legal advice.”
In a related move, the firm is trialing the use of non-lawyer project managers on large-scale cases – something Deleuil said has thus far been very successful.
“It runs like clockwork,” he said.