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LPM the Talk of the Blawgosphere

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Usually I can go a week or so without hitting my Google Reader account and not miss much about legal project management (LPM). September, however, has been a busy month. Steven Levy and I have been having an ongoing discussion on the role of project management tools in the legal environment, which has been picked up by Ron Friedman in his most recent post to Strategic Legal Technology, where he also notes a surge of interest in the topic.[1] In addition to Levy's and my blogs, Friedman also cites a recent post to the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, which sees the implementation of project management as part of the evolution of Alternative Fee Arrangements [2], a point I recently made in a post about LPM being key to fixed-fee billing

Levy's most recent post clarifies a number of his points and shows that he and I are agreement of the role of project management tools in the legal environment. [3] I'm not going to recap all of Levy's points, but he does raise an issue that I find particularly interesting: how much "flow control" are attorneys willing to hand over to professional legal project managers, outside of e-discovery work? Levy writes:

I'm not as sanguine as Paul that attorneys are willing to cede "flow control" to professional legal project managers. Is that a reasonable way to go on some cases or particular types of cases? Absolutely. I'm just dubious that we'll see much handoff in, say, the next three years.[4]
My experience has sufficiently jaded me to not be cheerfully optimistic about lawyers swiftly adopting LPM, but haven't lawyers ceded flow control a long time ago? I don't mean only mega-firms with whole departments of specialists. Even small to mid-sized firms tend to have paralegals and legal assistants managing most of the workflow. 

I think the issue is more that attorneys will rightfully be resistant to anything that makes it harder for them to insert their expert judgement into the work flow. If a legal project manager faces resistance from attorneys who don't want some technocrat to tell them how to do their jobs, it may be that those attorneys are scared of their inefficiencies being brought to light, but they may also fear, with some justification, that their ability to apply their legal judgement is being taken away from them. There is an excellent debate about this in the context of Lean Six Sigma taking place that started on Legal Onramp (account required) and continued on Patrick Lamb's and Ron Baker's blogs.[5]

Any project management system must have flexibility built in. There has to be room for exceptions.  I think this is more of an issue with process-improvement methodologies such as  Six Sigma. Project Management, when done properly, has this flexibility built in and respects expert judgement. Count how often "expert judgement" is listed as an input for the processes in the PMBOK. I'll go so far as to state that project management will increase the value of expert judgement in an organization.  

If you follow the PMBOK standard, determining the work that needs to be done, developing time and cost estimates, and even determining how progress and quality will be measured, is a highly collaborative process that should involve all stakeholders. Proper implementation of project management necessitates and improves understanding the system. As Levy makes clear, a software application won't do this for you. But if you are going to implement project management in an organization, you should hire a professional, and you should have professional tools.  

Levy's conclusion is, however, absolutely right. Education must come first. Attorneys need to understand the importance of project management before they invest in it. I also agree with his prediction that once the importance of project management catches on, case management applications will begin to incorporate project management functionality. Case management tools are already customized for the legal environment. They already contain contain task, calendar, contact, and document management data. Building in task dependencies and more sophisticated resource allocation would be a good start at helping case management tools also function as LPM tools.

These tools are, however, much less effective or even useless without having someone trained to use them. The legal community needs much more awareness of and education in project management. With all the recent press LPM is getting, I'm hopeful, but not sanguine, that this is starting to take place. 


[1] Ron Friedman, Project Management: the Answer to What Ails the Legal Market?, Strategic Legal Tech., Sept. 27, 2009, at http://www.prismlegal.com/wordpress/index.php?m=200909#post-999.

[2] Toby Brown, The Evolution of AFAs: Law Firm Side, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, Sept. 29, 2005, at http://www.geeklawblog.com/2009/09/evolution-of-afas-law-firm-side_25.html

[3] Steven B. Levy, Professional Project Management in a Legal Environment, Lexician, Sept. 27, 2009, at http://lexician.com/lexblog/2009/09/professional-project-management-in-a-legal-environment/

[4] Id.

[5] For the most recent post in this debate, see Patrick J. Lamb, Ron Baker's Lean Rebuttal. Pat's comments, In Search of Perfect Client Service, Sept. 26, 2009, at http://www.patrickjlamb.com/archives/commentary-ron-bakers-lean-rebuttal-pats-comments.html

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on September 28, 2009 12:58 PM.

Project Management Tools in the Legal Environment: Can Old Dogs be Taught New Tricks? was the previous entry in this blog.

Dialexia Throws Down the Gauntlet: Agile versus the EDRM and PMI PMBOK is the next entry in this blog.

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