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Do lawyers make good project managers?

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For a long time, lawyers have been cast as accidental project managers and over the last 18 months this has been ever-more apparent as the COVID-19 pandemic made in-house legal teams more vital than ever in helping navigate businesses through new risks and issues.

Even without the pandemic, in-house legal teams were grappling with an imbalance – a growing workload and shrinking budgets. The growth of technology and the accompanying slew of complex legislation and issues such as globalisation means in-house legal teams are more important than ever. Additionally, these lawyers are not just seen as legal minds anymore, but appreciated for the strategic value they can bring to a company. Many in the general counsel role now also sit on the board and give their advice on far-reaching matters. All of this means these departments are stretched and often overloaded with multifaceted projects.

For these reasons, the legal sector is becoming incredibly fertile for project managers and I am certainly seeing more and more demand for project management professionals in this space. To help fulfil this demand we are also seeing some legal professionals taking the sideways step to specialise in legal project management, already having a good grasp of the nuances of this market. For instance, my colleague Alex Hurler was a compliance analyst at Pinsent Masons and took the sidestep into legal project management recently after seeing the need for this discipline in the profession. She credits understanding how a law firm works in helping her succeed, but she has also pursued two project management qualifications to complement her existing knowledge. My colleague Joanne Ewart trained and worked as a lawyer for 22 years before moving into legal project management in 2017. Joanne recognises the skillset of a lawyer is different to that of a legal project manager. The two working in tandem allow for excellent delivery of legal service.

So, what makes a good legal project manager?

Traditional skills which you’ll be familiar with are of course, incredibly important. Organisation and a structured, methodical approach are essential. Understanding, the methodologies that we utilise on projects is important too. For the legal sector, skills in document management are vital as many projects are very document heavy and linked to this, awareness of legal technology is also important as many documents are on digital platforms and sometimes with an element of artificial intelligence. Of course, there is also legal process, for example, the difference between delivering a due diligence phase and an e-disclosure phase.

However, emotional intelligence is at the top of my list because building relationships between the in-house legal team, the business and other stakeholders is key in delivering a successful project. Navigating these personalities and quickly becoming embedded in a team can be helped with a strong grasp of the ‘softer’ skills.

There’s no doubt that appetite in the legal sector for project management will continue to grow. The legal profession is evolving and changing at a rate of knots and law firms are increasingly moving away from traditional models and looking for support in new places. Firms are also increasingly understanding that by employing a dedicated project manager, lawyers are freed up to focus on the legal work, creating more efficiency and ultimately, profitability.

If you’re interested in working in the legal sector but you’re unsure where to start it would be worth signing up to a legal project management service provider (of which Vario from Pinsent Masons is one). This will give you the opportunity to work with a variety of different clients, being deployed to work alongside an in-house legal team or on-site in a team and growing your experience that way.

The demand for project managers in in-house legal teams is only set to grow. Lawyers, with their understanding and knowledge of the sector are certainly in a good position to capitalise on these skills when it comes to legal project management. But an intricate knowledge of project management best-practice is also important and that’s why we’re seeing lawyers like Joanne retraining. It’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for opportunities, as there are lots of exciting prospects for talented project managers.

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