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Service excellence blog
Tom Bennett - Legal Project Manager

Remote Legal Project Management

Tom Bennett

Tom Bennett, a legal project manager at Eversheds Sutherland talks about the lessons learnt by starting a new role during lockdown.

The date was Friday 13 March 2020. I should’ve known something would go awry. The date I signed a contract to start at Eversheds Sutherland. One week later, the country went into lockdown, and I have been working from a desk at home ever since!

Recruited as the first Legal Project Manager to join Eversheds’ Real Estate practice group, I have been tasked with establishing the Real Estate team’s LPM proposition and working alongside the Legal Tech offering. However, this role was not anticipated to be based at home, and the challenges are immediate: how can I establish a new proposition having never met anyone, understood the team’s current ways of working, strengths, weaknesses and identified opportunities?

Nearly one year in, the journey continues! I don’t have all the answers and cannot claim to have standardised, optimised and energised all the matter management processes in the team. However, I have learned a fair few things, both about joining a team remotely, and starting a new proposition remotely, and here are a handful that may be helpful to people in similar situations:

  • Work with those who want to work with you – a principle that transcends remote working. However, without the opportunities to connect with people face-to-face, you have to pick people and projects that are willing to invest in a new person, a new proposition, and will sponsor you moving forward if you do a good job.
  • Keep your video on during meetings – even if you’re the only one! Building rapport is a lot more successful when you can see the other person’s face, expressions and emotions. As a project manager, you’re often tasked with the essential, but less glamorous elements of delivery, and having rapport with your team makes every conversation that bit easier.
  • Articulate your value succinctly. Be prepared with a 30-second explanation you can give to people when introducing yourself as the ‘new person’. You don’t have long to make an impression inside a business model where time is literally money. Focus your introduction on the value of what you do, specific to your audience. How I introduce myself to a Partner is different to an Associate, who is different to the Finance team, Tech team etc.
  • Build your network as quickly as possible. Cast your net wide and speak to all who want to speak to you. Within a year I have been able to connect with people across the business, and across all grades and job titles. An LPM is a conduit between multiple areas of the business, so prioritise connecting with all the key people and areas you need to. Remember: if you aren’t the one who knows the answers, make sure you know the one who knows the answers. You then become a very helpful person to know!
  • Ask the extra question. Having started my career in consulting, you develop a sense of what is a good question, and when you are required to learn by watching and waiting. That is a lot harder to do remotely, and something I continue to work on. People have more meetings than ever and remote chit-chat either feels forced or is much more infrequent than in the office. Take the opportunity to ask the extra question when speaking with colleagues or clients, whether it be work related or on a non-work topic, it may feel awkward – but reaps reward more often than not.
  • Get feedback early. Ask your manager, and others you work with closely, for early feedback. Focus on perceptions being generated, remote meeting etiquette, and understanding the culture of the business you have joined. As always, this needs to be handled with some wisdom and trust with the one(s) you are speaking to. Constructive feedback should be welcomed in this discussion, as first impressions are that much more crucial when working remotely.
  • Say yes to all opportunities (initially). Building connections is mission critical when starting a new proposition. Be willing to take on the small tasks, the work which usually screams OUT OF SCOPE of a project manager’s role. Use these opportunities to explain what else you do, and the value of your proposition. Over time, as you get busier, you’ll have to adapt your approach, and hopefully have others in your network who you can point people to. But start out with an open mind and willing attitude, it carries you a long way!

Starting a new role remotely is not easy, but it’s very doable and can even be enjoyable! A theme of my tips is they are generally people-centric, and that is by design. Put the time and effort in to getting to know and understand your colleagues – and you (and your proposition) will be off and running in no time at all!