As we stand on the customer side of the counter, the choices can be bewildering. Made even more so because the last time we visited the Italian ice cream store the flavor we liked so much is no longer available. It was the flavor of the week and it was a trial taste that didn’t “take”. A new flavor of the week has replaced it and who really cares to try mustard bratwurst ice cream?
Isn’t that where we are with legal project management (LPM)? This must be the latest marketing gimmick to hit the streets in the legal consultant’s bag of tricks. Just like the waves of “innovation” before it, LPM is destined to become the most recent carcass on the pile of worn out initiatives which set out to “modernize” the practice of law. I know, right?
Not so fast. Where project management has traveled before, industries have changed dramatically.
Project management as defined by Wikipedia has unique characteristics that differ from business or operational management”
Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, securing, managing, leading, and controlling resources to achieve specific goals. A project is a temporary endeavor with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or deliverables), undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value.
The definition applies to every legal project imaginable, whether litigation or transactional in nature. The objective of “beneficial change or added value” is what makes LPM the most commonly spoken acronym in the legal services industry today.
In the wake of a decade of phenomenal growth in terms of legal costs and profitability, the recession of 2009 hit the legal industry as hard as any other. The “clients’ revolution” changed the leverage in the client/lawyer relationship like never before.
Just as in other industries, law firms have succumbed to a customer driven market place in which sophisticated clients decide how much legal services are worth. Especially in light of global changes in the competitive nature of once invincible industries like steel, automotive, textile, finance, banking, engineering, architecture, construction and most others, the legal services industry faces declining demand, increased expenses and clients who have survived their own economic Waterloo by becoming leaner and more efficient.
The latest AltmanWeil law firm leader survey illustrates the permanence of this sea change. Almost every responding law firm leader offered the view that increasing efficiencies will be a permanent feature of the future of the practice of law:
96% of respondents said a greater focus on improved practice efficiency will be a permanent trend. Achieving greater efficiency in the delivery of legal services has become an imperative. Whether in response to requests for non-hourly pricing or as a proactive initiative to boost profitability, firms have recognized that efficiency in legal services delivery must improve.
Firms that begin to rethink their service delivery model, practice by practice, matter type by matter type, will be well positioned to capitalize on clients’ demands for greater transparency and greater value at a consistently high level of service.
Practice groups can be laboratories for this kind of change. Firms won’t need to overhaul everything, but every firm can try to improve in this way.
We expect to see firms investing in business-savvy lawyers and non-lawyer
professionals to drive the needed changes in structure, staffing, systems and processes.
We believe the benefits will greatly outweigh the costs.
Project management has been the means by which the corporate business culture has achieved more with less. Whether Six Sigma, Lean or numbers of other process improvement methodologies (i.e. Gallup’s HumanSigma and Carnegie Mellon’s People Capability Maturity Modeling), project management has become the tool of choice for a global marketplace faced with declining resources and a need to “bring about beneficial change or added value.” Project management is the lingua franca, or mother tongue, of business in the global community.
Whether applied to the entire firm’s operational culture as illustrated by the decade of change at SeyfarthShaw or on a single task phase in the simplest legal project, LPM increases efficiency, quality and ultimately firm profitability.
The Massachusetts Bar Association is illustrating the application of LPM to legal practice methods in a series of postings, the most recent of which illustrates how easy it can be to begin to realize value from LPM approaches:
As an example, let’s apply some very simple PM techniques to a very discrete action — centralizing all the facts learned during a matter. In even the smallest of practices, if more than one person is working on a matter there is a process for centrally storing facts. A PM approach would assess the centralization project’s goals, list the actions needed to meet the goals and the order of those actions, track costs, and set up a communication method to share status updates and address problems. In our fact centralization project a basic plan might look like this:
- Goals: All facts, with cites and links, will be in one place. The format must be searchable and able to be organized by key fact, date or person. All facts must be entered 60 days before the end of discovery.
- Steps to assess facts, in order:
1. Assign likely review tasks and notify supervising attorney of task assignment;
2. Review documents, input facts into the system and highlight key facts;
3. Notify supervising attorney document review is complete;
4. Review and input deposition facts, highlight key facts;
5. Notify supervising attorney deposition review is complete; and
6.Repeat for subsequent or follow up discovery.
- Cost: The project manager will track the amount of time it takes to assess the facts in each case and develop an “average” for all cases.
- Communicate: The project manager will identify problems and successes, communicate those to reviewers and the supervising attorney and revise procedures accordingly.
Even law schools are beginning to offer certifications in LPM for those who want to enter the field.
These are not the signs of a passing fad. LPM is here to stay. Just as other industry leaders are now driving the economies of the practice of law from corporate legal departments in global companies, legal services leaders will be on the front line of LPM adoption as well.
Otherwise, those who fail to get on board might see their flavor “delisted”.