Here I am just over a year and half into the world of legal project management, a place I did not even know existed back in 2021. It originally felt like moving to another country, all very new and people using a language I can barely understand. Having spent over seven years in the financial services, it felt like it was time for a change and the legal project management path was a journey I was prepared to take.
The world I come from is best compared with the weather in the UK — unpredictable! Whatever forecasts you have made will not be accurate, you have got to accept that. Having survived that ‘storm’ and moved to legal project management, here are some observations on the main differences I have discovered so far:
1) You can basically retire while working on the same financial services project. I’m joking of course but it’s true to say financial services projects are usually longer while the legal ones tend to be shorter.
2) Budgets can vary, but in financial services they tend to be higher than the those in legal project management (except in litigation cases). Perhaps this is as a result of the project scope.
3) A financial services consultancy will usually manage all aspects of the project and coordinate all third parties, while legal projects will usually only incorporate the legal side of the project.
This is not to say that we do not get projects where the law firm will manage things end-to-end, and the consultancy team will only have supporting role on the matter.
4) The diversity of work in legal project management is better; in financial services you may work on the same project for three to four years, you also don't tend to be involved in more than one project at the same time. However, in the legal project management world, at least in the firm I work for, you can be involved with five to ten projects simultaneously.
However, despite the above differences, good project management is just that in a law firm and pretty much all project management principles will apply. Here’s my top tips to help smooth the transition from financial services project management into legal project management:
Don’t reinvent the wheel: ask for help. Like in financial services, you'll find plenty of resources for the project support function — the Legal Project Management Network community was my go-to resource when I started in legal.
You do not need to be the manager to lead: win people’s hearts and minds — as I do not have a legal background, I had to spend quite a lot of time early on getting the lawyers on my side and building trust, which then enabled me to do the same with our legal clients.
Please talk to each other: as on any other project, effective communication is a key for success on every legal one, exercise and embrace effective listening and collaboration in your legal projects.
“I want this done yesterday”: I have seen more hard deadlines in legal than in financial services, perhaps because many of the legal projects are related to regulatory changes with a fixed deadline for compliance.
Accept the risk and the fact that some of it will not be manageable: risk management is a big part of project management in both finance and legal. It is good practice to share with the client that you have taken into account the possible risk factors impacting the project completion and you have a plan B in mind.
Big budget does not mean you need to spend it all: I have noticed clients are more sensitive when it comes to budget on legal matters compared to finance so apart from the usual monitoring be prepared to negotiate budget increase/reallocation.
Your resources are key: both legal and finance are services-based industries, so people are key to project success. Lawyers are busy people and may not have time to discuss how satisfied they are with the project they are working on — learn to spot the issues before they are voiced.
Do not panic: in legal as in finance, the project manager should be the one demonstrating composure and confidence in the project completion no matter the current obstacles. My top tip is to have an alternative plan for execution even before you kick off the project.
What are your experiences of making the move into the world of legal project management? Or moving the other way round? How have you adapted to managing financial projects? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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