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Job Advice: Legal Project Management is Swell, but it Won't Make Up for Technological Ineptitude

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In the current economic climate, it is prudent to find ways to distinguish yourself from your competition, whether you're a firm looking to gain and retain clients or a lawyer looking for a job. I've written in the past that attorney job seekers should highlight project management skills and experience. I have also created a "Careers" category on this blog as I expect that current changes in the legal industry will give me many more opportunities to write on this topic.

In a post made last Friday to the Brooklyn Law School Library Blog, Reference Librarian and Adjunct Professor of Law, Harold O'Grady discusses articles advising recent law school graduates to highlight project management skills in interviews.[1] One of the articles he cites was published in the fall issue of the American Lawyer: Student Edition. The title of the on-line version of the article asks "Has the Recession Forever Changed Large Law Firms?" It notes that in addition to traditional legal skills, "[law] firms are also starting to look more closely at a candidate's basic project-management and communication skills."[2] I'm not sure that O'Grady or the sources he cites have in mind the formal, standards-based project management skills that I focus on in this blog, but it underscores the fact that a general awareness of the importance of project management is seeping through the profession. 

One segment of the legal industry where project-management skills are particularly valued is electronic discovery. A number of articles have appeared in industry publications and blawgs over the past few months that have discussed the importance of project management in e-discovery projects and have opined on what makes a great e-discovery project manager. Most of these articles rightly focus on communication and organizational skills. In my post Do You Have What it Takes to be an E-discovery Project Manager?, however, I did warn that technical skills should not be underestimated. 

Surprisingly, it seems that some buyers of e-discovery services value project management skills so highly that they'll stick with vendors who are technically inept, so long as they excel at project management. In "EDD Providers Adapt to a Down Economy," published in today's Electronic Data Discovery blawg on Law.com, Jason Krause quotes John Bace, Research Vice President at Gartner, who claims:

There are two things they don't teach in law school; project management and collaboration.... I talk to clients who stick with vendors who are technically inept so long as they're great project managers. The only way to control costs is to manage all phases of discovery. [3]
 Technically inept? Really? As in "not fitting; inappropriate" or "displaying a lack of judgment, sense or reason; foolish" or "bungling or clumsy; incompetent"? [4] 

I'm sure that Mr. Bace just made a poor word choice. I find it hard to take seriously the claim that any corporation or firm is so smitten with project management that they would repeatedly retain the Three Stooges for forensic collection, data processing, and evidence hosting and production, so long as they're managed by a real swell project manager. The greatest project manager in the world cannot save a project if he or she is managing a team of people who can't do their jobs right.

I agree that it will often make sense to select a vendor who provides great project management and average technology than one with whiz-bang tech but poor project management. But inept? No. Great communication and a charming personality will not make up for improperly collected evidence, inadvertent waiver of privilege, missed discovery deadlines, and expensive do-overs.

I am not saying that you need a computer science degree to manage an e-discovery project or that "mere" lawyers are unfit for the job.  Many of the best e-discovery project managers I've worked with have no formal technological training, degrees, or certifications. But, as I've said before, while I agree that an e-discovery project manager needn't be a technologist, he or she must have technological bent. 

I don't see how you can be an effective e-discovery project manager without some understanding of the technologies involved. One important reason for a lawyer in charge of e-discovery projects to take the time to learn about the technology is to avoid getting into a situation where he or she is managing a team of people unsuited for the work. It is not without reason that human resource management is one of nine knowledge areas tested on the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam. Acquiring, developing, and managing an e-discovery project team requires making the necessary efforts to understand what the work entails and what is required of those doing the work.

Personally, I feel lawyers are up to the task. 

I've written before on the debate over whether legal training prepares lawyers properly for managing e-discovery projects. Bace's comments reflect the oft-repeated complaint that management and collaboration skills are not taught in law school. Also, many in the e-discovery industry, notably Ralph Losey, have bemoaned the lack of e-discovery training in U.S. law schools. I agree that U.S. law schools need to modernize their curricula to address the needs of today's consumers of legal services. This includes case and project management, e-discovery, collaborative law, and alternative dispute resolution.

That's not to say, however, that legal education and experience is useless for those managing e-discovery projects. Law school teaches you to absorb knowledge quickly. You have to not only learn the law, but learn to apply the law to all areas of human endeavor. The practice of law requires continued education and study, not only of the law but also the science and business practices that are relevant to matters the lawyer handles. Think of a personal injury lawyer learning enough about brain cancer, car-brake design, or various medical procedures to depose and cross-exam top experts in these areas. If someone has the training and experience to do that, is it really such a challenge for an attorney to learn about data collection and processing, litigation databases, meta data, and advanced search technologies?

Let's also not forget that you need some understanding of civil procedure and the law of evidence when managing electronic discovery projects.  Just as the lawyer managing e-discovery projects must learn about the technology, the technologist must learn about the law. 

In the midst of the United States' worst recession since the Great Depression, the demand for e-discovery consultants and project managers remains high.[5]  Given the tight job market for lawyers, I expect increasing numbers of attorney-job seekers to get the message about project management and re-brand themselves as legal project managers, especially for e-discovery positions. I hope these newly minted legal project managers pay more than lip service to the importance of project management and make a real effort to learn skills that will actually increase the value of their work. For e-discovery work, that must include making an effort to understand the technologies and standards unique to this industry.


[1] Jason Krause, EDD Providers Adapt to a Down Economy, Electronic Data Discovery, Oct. 12, 2009, at http://www.law.com/jsp/legaltechnology/pubArticleLT.jsp?id=1202434394512&EDD_Providers_Adapt_to_a_Down_Economy

[2] Tamara Loomis, Has the Recession Forever Changed Large Law Firms?, Lawjobs.com Career Center, Oct. 6, 2009, at http://www.law.com/jsp/law/careercenter/lawArticleCareerCenter.jsp?id=1202434302753&Has_the_Recession_Forever_Changed_Large_Law_Firms; see also Tamara Loomis, Don't Look Back, Am. Law. Student Ed., Fall 2009, at 19, available at http://www.americanlawyer-digital.com/americanlawyer/se09#pg17.

[3] Harold O'Grady, Interviewing Tips for the RecessionBLS Library Blog, Oct. 9, 2009, at http://blslibraryblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/interviewing-tips-for-recession.html

[4] Answers.com entry for "inept," http://www.answers.com/inept (last visited Oct. 12, 2009). See also, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 1364 (5th ed. 2002).

[5] David Cohen, E-discovery Hiring Outlook: Strong for 2009ALSP Update, Mar. 2009, at http://www.alsponline.org/ALSPNewsletter/March2009Newsletter/EDiscoveryHiringOutlookStrongfor2009/tabid/479/Default.aspx. The demand for e-discovery project managers has also been observed in the U.S. contract attorney market. See e.g., The New E-discovery Project Manager, The Posse List, Sept. 17, 2009, at http://www.theposselist.com/2009/09/17/the-new-e-discovery-project-manager/.

2 TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://legalprojectmanagement.info/cgi-sys/cgiwrap/peaston/managed-mt/mt-tb.cgi/52

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Exertus Procuraster from Legal Project Management on June 12, 2010 7:01 AM

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on October 12, 2009 12:32 PM.

Thoughts About Applied Discovery's 2009 Survey on E-Discovery Project Management was the previous entry in this blog.

Alice Burns on Project Management for Litigation is the next entry in this blog.

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