legal project management

This post is the second part of a whitepaper written by Scott Preston and Ryan McClead. The full paper can be downloaded here.

The Tipping Point

Image [cc] – aimforawesome

There is no longer any doubt that the legal market has fundamentally changed in recent years. Every firm felt the weight of their clients’ demands and responded in whatever way they were able: cutting rates, cutting expenses, making promises, and often begging for work. We believe we, as an industry, have reached a tipping point where client demands for better price predictability, reduction of risk, better communications, and an overall transparency of service will require a systematic and consistent approach to providing legal services. Firms that choose to continue rely only on customer loyalty and brand recognition will begin to lose out to those who open up the process to their clients and embrace the greater consistency and predictability of LPM.

However, LPM is not simply a tool that improves the client experience. It can also ensure that partners needs are more consistently met as well. Partners are concerned with many of the same things they always have been: How to get new business?; How to make the client happy so they’ll return?; How to limit risk to themselves and the firm?; and ultimately, How to make a profit doing it? Legal Project Management addresses both client and partner needs.

Robert Brunson, a partner at Nelson Mullins who has been using Microsoft Project to manage complex litigation for more than ten years, provided his view on using Legal Project Management:

“LPM provides a framework of accountability, transparency, predictability and ultimately less cost.  By creating a plan at the outset, client and counsel are forced to consider the many different paths and outcomes of a particular piece of litigation, including consideration of staffing alternatives such as virtual law firms or offshoring in advance of the work, which could potentially lend itself to these alternative staffing options.  This dialogue often leads to a better engagement by the client in important details early on, details that can be the seeds of unwanted surprises which so often frustrate clients and sour the professional relationship.”  

While the points illustrated above are obviously not the only points of concern between a partner and his or her client, they are central to every engagement and are the points most frequently discussed by General Counsel. Meeting the price is important, but more important is the opportunity to have meaningful discussions with a client about the progress of their matter.  All of the points and discussions outlined above are inter-dependent and when done correctly lead to trust.  

This post is the first part of a whitepaper written by Scott Preston and Ryan McClead. The full paper can be downloaded here.

Legal Project Management, why now?

Image [cc] – “Burning Rubber” Lori Hersberger

Project Management, which has been around since the 1950s, is defined on Wikipedia as “the discipline of planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling resources to achieve specific goals”. Lawyers have been performing these functions as they relate to delivering legal services since the beginning of the profession. They plan matters, delegate responsibilities, mentor their subordinates, and ensure that each legal project is completed in a manner that will please the client.  A select few lawyers have used general-purpose project management software, such as Microsoft Project, to manage their matters for years, but most project management in the legal sphere is still performed by instinct.  Attorneys rely on their vast experience to guide management decisions, which has always worked well.  Or at least, has always worked “well enough”. Unfortunately, the hourly billing model actively rewards inefficiency. If it takes fifteen hours to complete a task that should have taken five, then the inefficient lawyer has just tripled revenues.  In such an environment even those attorneys that are inclined to actively manage their projects have no incentive to improve their management techniques and the profession as a whole has no impetus to evolve.

We may have continued indefinitely down this path with attorneys managing projects “by ear” and raising their rates ten percent annually, but the economic downturn in 2008 provided a much needed wake up call to the industry.  Over the previous decades many of our clients have begun to implement quality assurance and efficiency measures like Six Sigma and LEAN borrowed from manufacturing industries.  When they began to feel the effects of the 2008 downturn, they started to assess their service providers just as they had themselves.  They began to demand the same levels of quality, accountability, and efficiency from their legal service providers in the name of controlling costs.  Many law firms responded in the only way they knew how: they discounted their services.  They took a percentage off of their hourly rates; they wrote off expenses that they had traditionally recharged to the clients; they pretended that the task that had taken them fifteen hours to complete had only taken them five; they laid-off non-essential workers, then less-essential workers, and then, in some cases, attorneys. Five years later many firms still act as if the old way of doing things will return just as soon as the economy turns around.  However, a recent report co-written by Citi Private Bank and Hildebrandt Consulting based on surveys conducted by Citibank and Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor states:

… it is time to let go of any lingering notion that the industry will revert to the boom years before the Great Recession anytime soon. With profit growth and other financial indices reaching lower setpoints in the past four years, we anticipate that the current state of the industry will remain the norm for the foreseeable future.

Gone are the days of one-line billing “for services rendered” and they are never likely to return. In order to survive in this new world law firms must be accountable to their clients, providing greater transparency, price predictability, and open communication.  In this environment the ‘ad hoc’ project management that lawyers have done for years will no longer be sufficient. Practicing law in the “new normal” will require a mature and systematic approach to Legal Project Management (LPM).

Image [cc] dground

One of my biggest pet peeves about working in a law firm is that we are completely reactive in our operations, and we are quick to jump on the next project without reviewing what we have just finished. Toby touched on the reactive process of our business model yesterday, so I’ll focus on the lack of process review today. When I was in the Army, we called this an “After Action Review.” The idea is pretty simple and can be summed up by asking five open-ended questions:

  1. What was our mission? 
  2. What actually happened?
  3. Why was there a difference?
  4. What have we learned?
  5. What will we do about it?
The key to this whole process is to extract the things that went right (and why they went right) and the things that didn’t go as planned (and why they went wrong), and memorialize that information so that we continue to do the right things, and we adjust our processes on the things that didn’t go as planned. In the Army, it can literally mean the difference between life and death… luckily for law firms, it doesn’t go to that extreme.
There are two obvious stumbling blocks that are present in the law firm environment regarding these types of post-matter or post-project reviews:
  • The need to assign blame if something went wrong
  • The fact that you can’t charge a client for the time you spend on these reviews
As for the first issue, these reviews cannot turn into gripe sessions. The purpose of the review is to take a very cold, calculated look at the situation, the timeline, the people, the processes, and the results. I like to refer to it as an autopsy without blame. The results of the review (and you need to keep everyone’s eye on this goal throughout the process) is to identify what we learned, and what we will do next time to create an equal or greater outcome. Period. 

Now, for the “but, we can’t bill our time” issue. A law firm is a business, run it as such. If you think that you cannot afford to take the time to do a review of your previous matter or project, then you are doing a disservice to those people you lead, your clients, and to yourself. The time you take to work out what went wrong in the prior matter can help prevent you from making that same mistake in the next.

Toby Brown sat down with Shy Alter on Monday and had a great conversation on where law firms (and clients) are in the transition to Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) versus traditional Billable Hour work. I’ve embedded the video (and it will pick up right as Toby is being introduced. It is a very informative 6 minutes, and is well worth your time regardless of if you know nothing about AFAs, or you’re the expert at your firm. I quickly put together a transcript of the interview, and really enjoyed the part where Toby talked about not doing AFAs or Legal Project Management (LPM) in a vacuum. Have the conversation with the client and find out where they are really wanting to go.

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Transcript (after Shy Alter’s intro)

SA: Toby, thanks for taking the time to join me today.
TB: Happy to be here.

SA: You’ve been on board last year [ILTA TV] and we had a great conversation. You’re out there on the ground dealing with issues related to AFAs, Alternative Fee Arrangements, and even more important, Legal Project Management (LPM), which makes it all happen. Without that, it would be very, very difficult to offer clients a compelling model that actually works, and for the firm to actually remain profitable. Which is very, very important. So, maybe I’ll start with AFAs. To what extent have they actually taken hold? To what extent do you have a higher percentage of matters that deal with some type of an actually AFA model?
TB: I think that’s a good question, and I think you see some of the articles and word on the industry that “no, they’re not here” because not 100% of our deals are AFAs. It’s a constant growth. It just continues and it starts to spread out into all the practices. I’ve been at three AmLaw50 offices in the past year and a half so I have a broader sense of knowledge. If I had to put a number on what I think, at the market level, are “non-hourly,” I’ll call it — we might redefine AFAs here in a minute — fixed fees, and what most people consider to be alternative fees, I’d guess it’s around 20%.

SA: Which is a significant change over the last five years?
TB: Oh, yeah. I would say that five years ago it would have been 5%. Because then you’ve had your long-term, contingency fee work that firms did. So, 5%. It’s been around for a really long time. It’s just been growing and growing.

SA: So, clients are demanding these obviously. That’s always where it’s coming from, and the firms are actually responding. Do you have a sense of whether it is taking hold more in larger firms as opposed to medium or smaller sized firms?
TB: Yes. Definitely more so with larger firms. However, in fact, through ILTA we are forming a group of Alternative Fee and Legal Project Management people, which is growing by leaps and bounds. But, when we tried to reach into the more mid-sized firms, we’ve had a hard time finding people that do this. I know there has to be people that are touching it in some way, but not to the level that larger firms.

SA: What are the most popular modules within AFAs?  There’s all kinds of ways of slicing this one.
TB: In terms of the types of Alternative Fees?
SA: Yes, in terms of the types of Alternative Fees.
TB: You know, I did a presentation about a month ago with a guy that is very well known in the AFA world, Jeff Carr. He is with FMC Technologies which is in my hometown of Houston, and he and I have become good friends. And, he calls it a “Budget with Consequences.” And, I think that is a good way of putting it and it might encapsulate a few different types of AFAs, but that would focus more on a ‘fixed-fee’ or a ‘fee cap’ or some level where you’re saying “I’m buying whatever type of service, and this is the amount I’m going to pay.” I would say that that one is growing. However, I still see quite a mix.

SA: I’m going to jump into the Legal Project Management because I know we are spending more time on it now days. It is kind of the framework that makes AFA’s possible, to a large extent.
TB: Yes. Well, I’m going to redefine AFAs. I’ve defined it as … well, I sort of undefined it and say “What’s not an Alternative Fee?” and that is “Anything where we get to name our rate as a firm bill how many hours we think is appropriate.” — How much of our work is that?? I think a significantly diminishing number. And, so when it comes to the (LPM) Legal Project Management stuff, I see it applying across a very broad spectrum. Because if we’re in, even if you might call it a ‘soft-cap’, and we have a budget and the client has an expectation on it, we have to manage to that number. We can’t go back and say “Oh, whoops! This was twice as much as we thought it was going to be.” The client’s not going to pay that bill. So, Legal Project Management is becoming important in a very broad sense to say “Budgets with Consequences: How do we live by those?”

SA: It is tempting for me to finish this interview by saying “It is really difficult to sell Legal Project Management to law firms, attorneys and lawyers.” But, I’m actually going to flip it around and say it is probably difficult to also get your clients to really, truly understand what it means. Because it’s a two-way street.
TB: Agreed.
SA: What do you do about that?
TB: I think that, just like Alternative Fees, you need to have a conversation with the client about that. Because clients are saying “I want efficiency.” Great. What does that mean? Does it mean fewer hours? Does it mean more technology? Does it mean Project Management? So, I don’t think you do Project Management in a vacuum and then you go back to the client and go “Look, I’ve solved all your problems!” Because that won’t go over well. You need to have the conversation with the client. So, I think that the same concept, AFA to LPM, it’s knowing what your client is really trying to get to.

SA: Toby, thank you so much.
TB: Thank you for having me.

Since we’re on the topic of Social Networks in a Law Firm…

A good friend recently asked me about my “thoughts on what social means in the context of project management?”  I replied with the following:

Social (small s) collaboration is the lifeblood of any project undertaken by human beings.   We have evolved to collaborate with our peers to achieve goals greater than any one of us could possibly achieve on our own.  We naturally band together in groups to distribute work load, to take advantage of individuals strengths and to limit the burden of individual weaknesses.  This is true whether we’re banding together to take down a mastodon with spears, building a barn, or managing a business project.  Whereas, historically, most human teams have formed for a specific purpose at a specific time and place, the modern business project team is often dispersed geographically and chronologically.  We work in different offices, we have different schedules, and we are usually working on multiple projects simultaneously.

 There are 3 key elements of group work which are easily lost in the modern environment. These are the elements that Social Collaboration tools attempt to address. 

·         Member Bonding
·         Multi-Party Communication
·         Real-time analysis and reaction                         

It’s cheesy, but if we look at these three elements in terms of a prehistoric tribe hunting big game, you can see where our modern environment breaks down.  The group of hunters leave the village together early in the morning with a single goal of bringing home protein for the entire village. They walk for miles together looking for signs of large game.  Along the way, they talk about the task at hand, but they also talk about their families, their concerns, their ideas.  When they find their prey, they kneel in the dirt and draw up their plan of attack, team members ask questions and others share stories of earlier experiences to find solutions.  When they’re ready to enact their plan, they spread out, staying within line of sight and communicating via hand signals and gestures.  If the animal responds unexpectedly, they react immediately and call out to the others to enact an alternate plan, or to improvise based on the new situation.  At the end of the day they return with their kill or they don’t, but either way they have shared experience and knowledge. When they leave the village the next morning, they will be a stronger team than they were the day before.  

Managing a legal project team should not be any more difficult than hunting a mammoth.  Unfortunately, we aren’t in the same location at the same time and we have varying degrees of interest and commitment to the task at hand.  We have very little opportunity to get to know the other team members on an extra-project basis.  We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to determine what’s being done by whom, and whether our contribution is comparable to other team members.  If the original circumstances change, we may not even be aware of the change, let alone in a position to react in a timely manner. And when the project is complete, successfully or not, we disperse to our individual careers and go about our business, until the next time we’re pulled into a new team with no experience, comprised of people we hardly know.

Social (big s) collaboration tools are a regressive technology, in that they allow us to use our instinctive social toolbox to tackle modern projects in a modern environment, and they allow an exploded project team to work as if they are in the same room at the same time, regardless of their individual locations or schedules.  Social tools will not ensure successful projects, but if used well, they should at the very least ensure efficient failures which build stronger teams to tackle future projects.

After several hours with no response, I followed up with my friend.

Me: Did I miss the point of your question?

Friend: Yes, but that would be a great blog post.

 Moral of the story:  Be careful asking me open ended questions.

Image [cc] Iain Farrell

The theme of “self-help” has popped up in a number of my conversations lately. I’m talking about work that lawyers used to rely upon others to handle, that they are now handling themselves. Whether it is pulling PACER dockets, case law, Shepardizing, filing court documents, or typing up their own documents, it is apparent that lawyers are taking on more of the workload than they did 10 or 15 years ago. Now, you may think that this is a good thing… and maybe it is. However, as I started thinking about workflow processes and project management, I wondered if just because a lawyer can do certain parts of the work, does that mean that the lawyer should be doing that part of the work?

Some of the basic concepts behind Legal Project Management, and the value of alternative fee arrangements between clients and law firms rely upon work being handled by the appropriate level of expertise. A lawyer can quite easily handle processes like pulling a PACER docket or editing the format of a court brief. In fact, in the billable hour universe, it could be pretty profitable to allow the attorneys to do as much self-help as they can. But, we don’t live in a pre-2008 world any longer. If clients begin requiring firms to use project management concepts in how they handle their work… or, partners start capping the total number of hours that associates can spend on specific client work, then the work needs to be pushed down to the lowest appropriate level. If it is pulling documents, then it should go to paralegals, researchers in the library, or others in the firm. If it is basic editing and formatting of documents, then legal secretaries or administrative assistants should be taking on that work. Again, it’s not because the lawyers can’t do that type of work, it is because they shouldn’t be doing that type of work. 
As big firms pushed secretary to attorney ratios to 4:1 or 6:1, the question has to be asked on what this does to the attorney? Are the adjustments in ratios a reaction to the lack of work available to the admin staff, or does it create a situation where basic work processes are being pushed up? Is work that should be taken on by non-billable admin staff, suddenly being pushed to billable workers such as paralegals or associates? Is this fair for the billable staff? Is it fair for the client? 
I have no illusions that firms will suddenly stop looking at admin to lawyer ratios at their firms. As long as administrative functions are viewed through the lens of “revenue – expenses = profits” then there will always be someone at the firm looking to cut expenses. However, law firms (and I’m coming from a big law firm perspective) have admin staff for a reason. For most of us, the reason is that we do certain pieces of the overall work for the client and firm so that the attorneys can focus on practicing law and bringing the best value to their clients. When the concept of “self-help” means that traditional administrative work suddenly becomes attorney work, then you have to wonder what type of value this really brings to the firm or the clients they serve.

I always enjoy conversations with ethics counsel, whether at law firms or in bar associations. All of the changes in the market tend to challenge different ethics rules. So talking with these people is usually an opportunity to see how new ideas may run afoul of the rules.
At my last firm, I recall one particular conversation about ethical issues in using LPOs. In Texas, and many other jurisdictions, there are limitations to how lawyers can make money on third party services. Many firms just pass the cost along, with no mark-up for administrative overhead, let alone allowing for a margin. The ethics conversation touched on this issue, but quickly shifted to the ethical duties of firms using outsourced services. The duty to ‘adequately supervise’ was the primary reason ethics counsel thought it was a bad idea to utilize such services. My come-back was that if we let the clients decide on the LPO providers, we retain the ethical risk, but lose the ability to vet the provider.
This issue was driven home recently by two disparate events. The first was attending a webinar sponsored by Integreon on the ethics of outsourcing. The main point made by the presenter was the primary ethics duty of law firms is conducting due diligence of the LPO providers. The lawyers’ duty to provide adequate supervision over the services means they better understand the organizational structure, quality control and qualifications of the providers.
The second event was seeing a demo from ERM Legal Solutions. One point made in the demo was that a hosted project management tool like ERM’s could be used to manage work performed by outsourced providers. This got me thinking about how when it comes to an outsourcing situation, due diligence was not enough for lawyers. ‘Adequate supervision’ is a day-to-day, on going duty. And how possibly could lawyers in one location be adequately supervising non-lawyers from another company in another location? Absent a process tool for providing the capability of oversight like ERM’s, lawyers must basically review and confirm every piece of work coming from the outsourced provider. But even then have no direct knowledge of how and when the work was done.
This ‘supervision’ challenge already exists with many third party providers, such as e-discovery vendors. In those circumstances, smart firms are always evaluating the providers, making sure their processes are adequate. LPOs are really on a higher plane in this regard, as their services tread much deeper in to practicing law. With services like “contract drafting” and patent preparation, the evaluation and oversight of an LPO by a firm should be much deeper and hands-on.
My Advice: Law firms bear a significant ethics liability (a.k.a. Risk) whenever an LPO is involved in the work, whether hired by the firm or the client. Therefore, law firms would be wise to proactively engage with LPOs and have their homework done before the need arises. Firms should also consider leveraging technology to better connect and integrate LPO services into their matter management processes. Otherwise, they may end up shouldering all of the risk with no opportunity for sharing in the rewards.

Balancing out my post this week on some less-than favorable news from Texas, I wanted to share some very good news from the Lone Star State.

Onit, a Houston-based legal technology company, obtained a healthy injection of capital this week. Eric Elfman, a founder and the CEO of the company, has been working tirelessly for months to secure this funding. I know this because he has cancelled lunch with me numerous times.
Onit is doing some very interesting things with technology. Their original focus on legal project management has evolved a bit to focus more on process automation. Process is something every legal department and law firm has, but are just coming to recognize. So an application that automates process is going to have significant value. If you look at the process mapping Seyfarth, Reed Smith and other firms are pursuing and the impact this is having, you will start to fully appreciate the value of such a tool.
The other unique aspect of Onit is its SaaS model. Process automation can be very painful due to the time and investment required in enterprise infrastructure. Onit removes that pain.
I’m guessing the $4.1m in funding from Austin Ventures is going to vault Onit deep into the market. Watch for great things coming from Eric and the team over the coming year.
Congratulations Onit!

Over dinner with a colleague, the question of where should law firms invest their change dollars came up. The basic concept is you divide a firm’s lawyers into three groups: #1 gets it, and is already making changes to the way they price and practice. #2 is somewhere in the middle, perhaps willing to embrace some changes, but not really taking proactive steps. #3 is oblivious to the need or unwilling to make changes, since the old way has been working fine for so long.
So the question is where should a firm commit resources to improve its operations and bottom line? Which “third” of the firm will generate the highest return on investment in change? Here are some pros and cons for investing in each group:

#1 Pros: This group is already well on their way and will quickly adopt any changes that help them improve. In the classic style, this is investing your dollars on the highest performing part of your business.

#1 Cons: This group will keep adopting change no matter the investment. Spending money here may well have low returns, since the group is already well on its way to the New Normal.

#2 Pros: This group is generally amenable to change and likely just needs some encouragement and exposure to new thinking. Dollars invested here will likely return immediate value.

#2 Cons: The return on investment from this group may not be as large as #1, since this group may be willing and able to only go so far. So although quick returns may be seen, they may not be deep and sustainable.

#3 Pros: This group has the most ground to gain and any adoption of change will bring significant returns.

#3 Cons: With a history of inability and/or unwillingness to adopt change and improve performance, group #3 seems the least likely to embrace new ways of thinking and doing.

The outcome of our conversation: My colleague pointed to traditional management theory, which says focusing on the bottom third will drive the entire firm up the change ladder. Although I see some logic to this approach, I couldn’t agree with it. My experience is that the bottom third in a law firm are so entrenched in their thinking and methods that they not only avoid change, they fight it. My gut tells me to invest in the high performance group – #1. It sends a message to them that their efforts and approach are appreciated, and it lets the other two groups know what the future needs to be.
Every firm will need to look at its three groups and decide what works best for them. Whether it’s adopting AFAs, embracing Legal Project Management, or even just implementing process improvement, law firms should consider the “Thirds” question and focus their investments on their highest ROI return lawyers.
[Image CC by nhanusek]

This week’s Elephant Post question on Project Management (PM) centers around the concept of is PM conducted in a law firm setting significantly different enough from PM conducted, say in a Fortune 500 company, that it deserves its own classification? Is it Legal Project Management (LPM)? Or, is it simply Project Management conducted within the confines of a law firm… and the “Legal” prefix is simply a marketing ploy to get lawyers to buy in?

Some of the top people in the PM/LPM field chimed in this week, and I think you’ll enjoy the banter that goes back and forth. We thank all of those that contributed, and we’ll do this all over again next week with a new question that asks if law firms should just give up on Client Relationship Management tools (like InterAction), and just outsource the CRM using social media tools like LinkedIn? I actually know of some that are… but I imagine this question would cause minor strokes in some law firm Partners and some of you that actually manage your firm’s CRM tools. So, if you have a perspective, scroll down to the bottom of this post and fill out the handy-dandy form we’ve set up for you.

Steven B. Levy
Author, Legal Project Management

There absolutely is a difference. Traditional project management is designed for construction, aerospace, manufacturing, and other such areas with horizontal and vertical task stability — you know in advance each of the tasks (vertical) and you know in advance how long each will take within a narrow range of variability (horizontal). Legal does not meet either of these requirements. The profession is getting noticeably better on the vertical axis, clear identification of all of the tasks along with clear separation of them. However, in legal, as opposed to construction, say, you have a human adversary expending considerable effort to disrupt your plans. (E-discovery is a special case that comes closer to mapping to traditional project management techniques and tools.)

That said, the principles are the same.

Thus Legal Project Management is the application of the principles of project management to legal cases or matters (a/k/a projects).

Also, consider that there are three levels of “project management” — project administration, project management, and project leadership. Project administration isn’t much different in the legal world, and need not be done by attorneys. Project management currently, where it’s being practiced, is usually done by attorneys, but over time there’ll be a balance between attorney and non-attorney PMs. However, project leadership, the most critical aspect of PM and LPM, will remain an attorney role for the foreseeable future.

Legal Project Management makes a difference in the practices that adopt it. Project leadership can make an even bigger difference — for clients, for the team, and for profitability.

Jeffrey Brandt

There is absolutely no such thing as ‘legal project management.’  You can start with my post here!

Project management is project management.  To label it with the industry it is being used in hyperbole.  Good project management adapts to the project at hand.  How much and what kinds of project management tools you use are as varied as the nature of the projects themselves.  Legal has nothing unique in it that would require a special prefix on project management.  While project management may have had its start in heavy industry and manufacturing, progressive service industries have also engaged and used it.  Have you ever heard of a small company called PricewaterhouseCooper?  What about another small company called Bank of America?  Of course you have.  Have you ever heard of FPM or financial project management?  What about BPM or banking project management? I doubt you have.  I certainly haven’t.  PwC and BoA have been using PM for ages on their projects.  Is it the exact same kind of PM that law firms use or that NASA uses to build the next generation space shuttle?  No. Does that mean they need to prefix PM in order to make it relevant?  No. The basics processes and benefits of project management are solid without being dressed up.

Toby is right that there has been progress on the PM front in the legal vertical and that is great news.  I look forward to more and more PM processes and tools being used in legal.  The bad news is that either legal feels the need to engage in self-aggrandizement, or the industry vendors or consultants feel the need to prefix plain, old PM in order to sell it or charge more for it.

Thanks for listening.  I’ll let you go now.  You probably need to get back to check your legal email on your legal mobile device or your legal PC running your legal Windows 7.  Or maybe you need to make a legal call on your legal telephone.

Sorry folks but the Shark Repellent Bat Spray is just plain, old shark repellent.  And that’s ok, because shark repellent is great!  It can come in very handy when you accidently get dumped in the water and no amount of fisticuffs (or booticuffs?) will get that shark off you before it explodes.

Eric Elfman
LPM Vendor

I think that LPM exists and is different than PM, but not for the same reasons as Steven.

Although Steven is on to something in his reference of who PM was designed for and where it came from. If you are building freeways or nuclear submarines, then you need PM the way that Microsoft Project defines it: top down, rigid, hierarchical and complete. LPM is not that.

I believe that LPM is closer to a “lean” project management that we use in the software industry. In lean PM, you can’t plan to the end of the project, you have to be flexible (or iterative), status meetings and updates and collaboration is key. I believe that LPM is really “Lean Project Management,” but from my experience, the legal market doesn’t receive that message well.

Ben Wightwick
“Legal” IT PM and BA

This will be a short post to the previous additions, as I’m no expert.

You don’t hear BPM (Banking project management) or IPM (Insurance project management). I think (an this is where I get myself into trouble) lawyers like labels, and need something that uniquely defines them/firm/program of work. The fact it’s based on facets of existing solid and sensible project management practices is neither here nor there.

LPM or PM (with a legal component slant) – it’s the PM that’s important and it’s not rocket science.

Toby Brown

Is there really such a thing as Automotive Design?  Isn’t it really just “Design?”

My point is that if an industry needs to add its name as a prefix to a valuable idea in order to adopt it, then go for it.  Legal Project Management may just be a flavor of PM.  So what.  If adding the “L” gets law firm partners on-board, then it makes sense to me.

David Whelan
Manager of Legal Information

Project management is project management.  There are going to be nuances depending on the organization and the type of project but I don’t think there is a fundamental need to call it “legal” project management.  Law firm IT already does project management and, while the subject matter is different, I’m not sure that the project management concepts are.

However, the legal world seems to have two recurring themes.  First, in order to sell the lawyer (partners, faculty, members), you need to have a lawyer doing the work.  Calling it Legal Project Management will make it feel better for the audience and for the lawyers who are going to do it.  Second, we like to create silos.  Calling it Legal PM enables  the creation of a second project management nexus (PMOffice, whatever) in organizations that might already have the basic infrastructure, if not necessarily the right knowledge base, to provide project management support.  The upside is that creating a new silo is probably easier and the downside is that, in about 3 years when this has proven itself as either a fad or a staying trend, you may need to figure out how to merge multiple project management units.

Timothy B. Corcoran
Legal Technology & Marketing Executive

Legal Project Management is the application of standard project management concepts and techniques and tools to a legal practice.  Simply re-labeling or packaging the core concepts differently doesn’t change the discipline, but it may make it more palatable to lawyers.  Having spent several years conducting LPM trainings and workshops, I can confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that lawyers will not embrace concepts and techniques that appear to be designed for other disciplines.  On multiple occasions a law firm hired a “specialist” from another discipline, only to reject all the examples and case studies that were culled from industry, so I was asked to deliver a version customized to the legal field, and all of my anecdotes and case studies were from actual matters at actual law firms… so same concepts, different context.

I’ll also add that while lawyers generally “get” the analytics that are so important to good project management, they embrace this only after they’ve understood the underlying business concepts.  For example, diving right into process mapping to inform budgets will falter unless the lawyers first understand the critical importance of predictability to clients.  Also, lawyers often don’t readily acknowledge that there isn’t infinite variability and “art” in their legal work, and much of what they do in matter A is applicable in matter B, and so on.  They tend to equate repeatability with commodity, and few lawyers believe s/he practices commodity law.  So one area where LPM must be adapted from general PM concepts is to differentiate between those processes that are “routine” and those that are truly innovative and creative.

Pam Woldow

As a lawyer who has used LPM in her own legal practice, and in the last four years has taught it to thousands of lawyers in law firms and corporate legal departments, Legal Project Management is a significant and independent variant of standard PM due to the legal environment in which lawyers operate.  Equating the two would be like saying that since a horse has four legs and a dog has four legs, a dog is a horse.

One of the primary goals of PM is to reduce variation.  That’s perfect for turning out car fenders on an assembly line.  PM is also aimed at collaborative efforts to achieve goals set forth in a Project Charter.  So, it is excellent for planning linear processes, like software or systems development, where a team is working toward a singular goal.

For those of us who have practiced law, those PM goals don’t work in real-world legal trenches.  Law is inherently different from manufacturing and IT.  In litigation, for example, you have an opposing counsel whose efforts, intellect and time are spent trying to frustrate, defeat, and unseat all your efforts.  There is no single team all working to create a fender or a software installation.  Instead, you have clashing, opposing forces that are paid (handsomely!) to think of and effect ways to undo the gains of the other side.  In a software installation, for example, this would be like having someone erase programming code and toss the computers out the window every night after a day’s work.

And, transactional work has the same tensions.  In mergers and acquisition deals, there are fleets of brainy folks trying to move the price point in favor of their client.  All the while, business folks, shareholders, the press and others are bringing unique pressures to bear on the chess pieces that the lawyers are moving on the board.

Moreover, the players – the lawyers – have very specific personality traits that have been tested and written about many times.  They tend to be extraordinarily autonomous and non-collaborative – markedly more so than the general population and other professionals.
Lawyers work very independently.  In fact, we’re trained to do so from law school onward, and the compensation structures in law firms intensify and reinforce that tendency.  So, in law firms you have a boatload of autonomous, intelligent folks engaged in ritual warfare on behalf of clients who pay them to achieve certain goals.  This is not an environment where standard PM is going to play well.

That said, there are processes that can be improved and made more efficient.  There are patterns in matters or parts of matters that can be flow-charted and for which some parts of traditional PM approaches make sense.  The push towards sharing information and collaborating that LPM supports absolutely enhances the efficacy of strategizing, staffing and managing legal matters.  But, a dog is NOT a horse.

Next Week’s Elephant Post:

Is It Time To Outsource Client Relationship Management Tools to Products Like LinkedIn?

Perhaps your firm is the exception and you have somehow got your CRM tool to work properly and get everyone in your firm to share their contacts, and keep all that information up to date. For the rest of the world, however, it seems that no one has a success story to talk about when it comes to the data found in their CRM. Is it time to just give it up and admit that CRM is a pipe-dream? Can the information that is found in external products like LinkedIn actually work more effectively than trying to keep up with all of those relationships internally?? Let us know your perspective.