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Legal Project Management: It’s All About You

Part II of a series on legal project management

The April 27 LPM Tip discussed using project management (PM) tools to promote more efficient drafting. One of the ways PM promotes efficiency is by reducing projects to repeatable, measurable steps. Attorneys commonly object that each legal matter is unique -- lessons learned by project managers in manufacturing a million toasters do not help an attorney draft a motion in a particular case. Attorneys also object to implementing PM techniques because they believe the client gains all the benefits while the attorney retains all the risks.

We can agree that PM tools help attorneys analyze and enhance routine actions. So let's focus on what is the same in each matter -- you. Regardless of the characteristics of any matter, elements such as your case procedures and your staff obligations usually remain the same. A few specific examples of practices that remain generally constant regardless of matter vagaries are:

  • Opening and closing a matter;
  • Recording time and billing;
  • The methods for analyzing and centralizing key facts;
  • Tracking the execution of documents; and
  • Scheduling and/or organizing site visits or travel.

Legal PM advice usually focuses on implementing PM techniques from the beginning to the end of a matter. Yet, as you can see, the practices identified above are discrete actions -- not transactions, such as litigating a case. For an attorney or firm not familiar with PM, making the effort to learn and apply PM tools to discrete actions or tasks is easier and more useful than applying PM tools to an entire matter. Any increased efficiencies will immediately improve the firm's bottom line; the client still bears the inherent risks of uncertain legal projects and attorneys can treat each matter as unique because PM is applied only to actions not matters. Additionally, a firm can apply PM lessons learned to bigger issues (or even transactions) with more confidence.  

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.

So what would you get at the end of the process? The supervising attorney always knows whether facts are in the central location, the project manager fixes problems and makes review more efficient, and the firm has a better idea of the costs to centralize and analyze facts in each case -- a key cost of litigation. Isn't this one of the few times when it is OK to make it all about you?

Tip courtesy of Scott L. Malouf, Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Published May 24, 2012

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To learn more about the Law Practice Management Section, which is complimentary for all MBA members, contact LPM Section Chair Thomas J. Barbar or Vice Chair Stephen Seckler.
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