As budgeting beds in, the next logical step will be legal project management.

Recent news that City law firm Herbert Smith Freehills is keenly embracing legal project management (LPM) by appointing legal project managers in all of its disputes practices, as well as other areas, is surely a sign of the times.

Herbies is by no means the first major City firm to bring dedicated legal project managers into its fold; both Hogan Lovells and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer did so last autumn.

The key thing about LPM - and probably the biggest reason why many law firms still find it too bitter a pill to swallow - is that it refuses to treat litigation as something that is too special and too unique to be scoped out and managed in the same way as other projects. Before a firm can successfully introduce LPM, it must let go of the old arguments that litigation is so inherently unpredictable that it is impossible to forecast how long it will take or how much it is going to cost.

Lawyers have sought to cling on to that outdated notion for a long time. But everything is different now, because we have costs budgeting.

In the commercial arena at least, it can no longer be claimed that you cannot predict the costs of litigation - because litigators have been having to do just that for the past two years - and it has certainly been working much better in commercial litigation than personal injury.

Budgeting has forced lawyers to approach litigation in an entirely different way; to scope out the size of the litigation project, to predict its most likely path, to decide what resources should be allocated to it, and to document the factors that are likely affect its course and require the budget to be revised.

In doing all of this, a firm is already halfway down the road towards full-on project management. But whereas a budget is entirely aimed at ensuring a firm receives the full extent of its costs from the losing party, the legal project management model goes further, in seeking to ensure litigation is carried out at optimum efficiency - with the right level fee-earners and the right resources applied - to maximise profit.

Estimates and decisions over resources are based on data, rather than hunch.

While only a small number of firms have taken the step of employing dedicated legal project managers so far, this is almost certainly a trend that we are going to see more of among the bigger practices. And given that even smaller firms are still required to engage in budgeting, we can also expect smaller, more niche firms to take the next step and start taking more of an interest in the principles of LPM.

Litigation may have lost its special status; but if it ultimately becomes managed more effectively, this must be good news for clients - and it will certainly please those members of the judiciary who are keen proponents of the Jackson reforms.

Rachel Rothwell is editor of Litigation Funding magazine