How to become a legal project manager (step-by-step guide)

Updated 7 November 2022

Standardising the processes that legal professionals use for large or complex cases is valuable in saving time and cost. Hiring legal project managers, or legal PMs, is one way that law firms reduce the pressure on lawyers by providing a specialist on a legal team that organises, plans and manages the general aspects of each project. If you're considering a career as a project manager in law, gaining the relevant experience and qualifications is an excellent first step. In this article, we cover what project management in law is, plus how to become a legal project manager with a step-by-step guide.

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What is a legal project manager?

Legal project managers, or legal PMs, work alongside a larger team, including lawyers and other legal professionals, to work on large or complex cases requiring effective regulatory management. Many large law firms hire project managers to streamline the legal processes involved in individual cases. This can improve the client experience and reduce the workload on lawyers by delegating some of the basic requirements to a skilled specialist. Project managers in law firms utilise the same abilities as they do in other industries, applying their expertise within the regulations and standards necessary for legal practice.

As a project manager in the law industry, you work with individual lawyers or teams of lawyers to standardise processes and systems, helping to manage various aspects of each project, such as resource allocation, risk management, budgeting and project planning. Implementing these practices helps law firms to run efficiently and reduce time wastage to become more cost-effective while allowing lawyers to focus on client-facing tasks. While legal PMs aren't lawyers, a strong understanding of how different legal processes work is helpful for this position.

Related: Project manager requirements (with duties and skills)

How to become a legal PM

A career as a legal project PM provides the opportunity to work in many areas of law. For example, you could support high-profile criminal cases or provide daily support to improve efficiency in family law cases. Some steps you could follow to qualify as a project manager within the legal sector and to find a job include:

1. Complete GCSE-level qualifications

Completing qualifications at a GCSE level provides the minimum requirements necessary to prepare your studies of business and project management at a higher level. GCSEs in Maths and English give a good foundation for project management, while a GCSE in IT can help to build your familiarity with the software and computer systems you may use in a legal environment. If you don't have GCSEs, applying for an equivalent foundation qualification can provide the grades to continue training.

2. Continue pursuing relevant A-levels

Good grades at A-level are a crucial requirement for application to undergraduate degrees. Choosing A-levels relevant to your area of interest, such as business studies and IT, can help build your skills. It also helps you develop an understanding of the fundamental practices involved in many workplaces. You may also gain more specialised qualifications in A-level law, sociology or politics to understand what lawyers do, which can support you in effectively managing projects.

3. Earn a degree in a related area

Achieving a 2:1 or higher, in a degree such as project management, is a standard requirement for many law firms looking to hire project managers for law cases. Completing a degree provides the information, techniques and practices necessary to apply your learning to real-world workplaces. As many of the principles of project management apply to different sectors, a general degree applies to a law firm plus other environments such as construction, development or marketing.

4. Gain experience in project management

Gaining experience in project management is valuable to building your CV and applying for jobs at a law firm. Many of the same principles apply, with legal companies looking for experience in project management to be eligible for application, even if that experience isn't with a solicitor. You could gain work experience in a variety of environments as a qualified project manager, from managing projects within a small startup to heading up projects in construction, with large development companies or on marketing teams. Because so many of the skills are transferrable, working as a project manager anywhere can be beneficial.

Related: What are the basics of project management? With phases

5. Consider getting certifications for legal project management

Certifications in legal project management offer a way to enhance your skills and improve your legal sector knowledge. While not all companies require additional certification, more training helps build confidence and allows you to understand the key differences in legal projects compared to other kinds of project management. Organisations like the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) offer specialised courses to improve your understanding of legal environments' processes, restrictions and regulations.

6. Find a job in project management

Typically, securing a role in project management within law firms or for a private solicitor requires several years of foundational experience. This specification means it's vital to gain experience working on projects within different markets to move over to the legal industry. For example, you could find a job in project management for an application development team, building your experience in budget planning, resource allocation and full-scope management to help your application stand out for legal positions.

Related: Project manager interview questions with answers

7. Apply for work experience in a law firm

Working in a law firm provides valuable experience to help you understand how different cases work and the day-to-day running of projects. Applying for an internship or limited work experience can provide a way to gain experience and prepare you to work in a professional legal environment. Larger law firms may offer internship opportunities, allowing project managers to work on a single case to enhance their experience and develop the relevant legal project management skills.

8. Build connections with law firms and legal companies

Researching different legal firms and their work can give you an idea of the type of company you'd like to work for. Connecting with lawyers and partners at firms can provide the opportunity to understand the work they do and potentially find out about jobs or work experience. If you're highly experienced, you could also consider outsourced or consultancy roles with law firms to build a relationship and apply for permanent positions in the future.

9. Apply for positions as a legal PM

Once you've gained experience in product management and knowledge of the legal sector, you can apply for positions as a qualified project manager in the legal industry. Law firms may hire directly online, through agencies or through headhunting to find the most suitable professionals. Ensuring your CV contains your relevant experience plus your knowledge of legal regulations and compliance can help you stand out from other applicants for legal project management roles.

Related: How much does a project manager make?

10. Attend regular training to keep your knowledge up-to-date

The regulations and rules surrounding legal cases change regularly, requiring up-to-date knowledge to ensure the right resources and plans are in place. Keeping up-to-date on your training and knowledgeable about legal changes and new requirements can be valuable in a career as a project manager in law. You may also consider further certifications in investigative projects or advanced techniques to further your skills in industry-specific project management methods.

Related: Project management approaches: types of managers and methods

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Tips for finding a legal PM job

Finding a job as a project manager in the legal sector requires expert knowledge of industry regulations and how different legal cases work. For example, if you'd like to work on a project relating to international copyright law, this process may differ from managing projects relating to criminal cases going through the court system. Some tips for finding a job as a project manager in law include:

Learn the nuances of various legal cases

Understanding the different requirements for individual legal cases helps you find a position as a project manager. For example, having an in-depth knowledge of each stage in a case and each person's role in a legal project can help you answer questions in an interview. As there are many types of legal cases, having a general understanding of each is valuable when applying for positions.

Research the specialism of the firms you apply to

Many law firms specialise in a particular area of law, such as liability, criminal or family law. Researching the companies you're applying to can provide insight into the cases they handle, giving you an idea of the kinds of projects you would work on. Research helps you prepare and provide the right answers during the interview, particularly for questions relating to familiarity with types of legal work and regulatory requirements surrounding them.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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