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Legal Project Management: Thoughts, tips, and discoveries related to the management of legal projects.

Thoughts About Applied Discovery's 2009 Survey on E-Discovery Project Management

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Litigation support shops have increasingly been reinventing themselves as e-discovery consultants as much of the collection, processing, and hosting work becomes commoditized. Only a few, however, have emphasized project management as an area where they bring value. This always struck me as strange as most of the best legal project managers work in the litigation support bureaus. 

Until very recently, the litigation support bureau was one of the few environments where the unique skill set of legal project managers was valued and rewarded. I think this answers my question about why the support bureaus have not highlighted their project management expertise: it wasn't valued much by their law firm clients. A recent survey conducted by LexisNexis Applied Discovery, however, shows that this is no longer the case. 

I finally got around to downloading Applied Discovery's 2009 Survey on E-Discovery Project Management (registration required to download). Lexis Nexis Applied Discovery has always done a good job at advertising itself as and expert resource and partner in the e-discovery process. It is nice to see them pushing the importance of project management and investing the resources to gauge the industry's e-discovery project management views and practices. 

Seventy-three people responded to the survey. While it does not sound like many people, they were drawn from a group of fairly informed e-discovery customers, including Applied discovery clients, subscribers to InsideCounsel Magazine, and members of the Association of Litigation Support Professionals (ALSP). The survey does not state the numbers of respondents from each. It would be interesting to know, for example, whether most of the respondents are existing customers.

Of the survey's findings, I find the following the most interesting:

  • 59% of the respondents worked in law firms. 

  • The respondents' roles in e-discovery: 14 of the 73 were lead counsel/partners/case managers; 13 = IT; 13 = review management/supervison; 9 = litigation associate; only 1 was a document review contract attorney (I'll get back to this later), see the survey for the roles of all 73 nonrespondents.

  • 37% of the respondents responded that a Law Firm Senior Counsel acts as the e-discovery manager--the largest percentage. If, however, you add up all corporate individuals (general counsel, IT managers, and corporate attorneys), you get 44%. (Contractor/Consultant = 19%).

  • More than half (55%) stated that e-discovery document review is managed by a law firm senior associate or practice support team.  23% reported using offshore review teams. 16% reported IT staff are involved in document review.

  • 50% of the respondents ranked project management as critical, with 30% rating their organization's e-discovery project management as only fair or poor.
I encourage those interested in e-discovery project management to read the entire survey for more interesting data and respondent comments.

While I certainly agree that project management is critical to an e-discovery project's success, and am encouraged to see that half of the respondents agree with me, I think that the numbers might look different if you were to survey a more general pool, say all American Bar Association members. My feeling is that lawyers in general are less enthusiastic about project management than this survey indicates, although I would be ecstatic if my assumption were proven wrong.

I would also like to see comparisons of broad surveys of law firm lawyers and in-house counsel to see if in-house counsel value project management more than outside counsel. Yes, Lexis Nexis, your efforts have only made me greedy for more.

I thought that the survey included a good mix of e-discovery project roles, but I would be interested in getting more information on document review contract attorney views on project management. Given how loosely the title "project manager" is handed out by staffing agencies, I would expect a more jaded view about project managers. It would be interesting to see if that leads to them placing a lower value on project management or a perceived need for more qualified project managers to oversee document review projects. I wonder if The Posse List would run an informal survey on their site?

The fact that 44% of those managing e-discovery projects are corporate employees was higher than I would have guessed. I agree with Applied Discovery that "[t]his could be representative of a shift toward increased ownership and decision making within the corporation."  This number, however, may acutually understate the increased control corporate clients have over e-discovery projects. 

How much of the 19% of contractor/consultants running e-discovery projects were hired and directed by the corporations? Corporations are increasingly directing their outside counsel to use their preferred e-discovery vendors. Often those vendors have established on-going e-discovery processes with the corporation and while the corporation's legal and IT departments may not have a large role in the day-to-day managing their e-discovery projects, they may have invested a considerable amount of time working with their service providers to develop the policies, procedures, and other organizational assets used by the contractor they outsource the project management to.

While I find the statistics from this survey interesting, I'm even more interested in the fact that Lexis Nexis conducted the survey and used it to help highlight the value of their project management expertise. Other than Fios (see here, here, here, here, and here), not many e-discovery vendors aggressively sell their project management services. This survey feels a bit like a watershed moment. Over the next few months, I expect most other e-discovery service providers and consultants to increase their emphasis on project management beyond bullet-point sales claims.  I'm looking forward to white papers and Web casts from Kroll Ontrack, Case Central, First Advantage, and others. It'll make my job of writing content for this blog easier.  (Hey guys, if I've missed any material you have specifically addressing project management, let me know and link to them in the comments.)

Why the sudden surge of interest in--and increased understanding of the value of--legal project management? One of my theories is that starting my blog created some psychic ripple through the minds of those in the legal and litigation-support industries.  My other theory is that the increased role of corporations in the management electronic discovery has led service bureaus to increasingly sell directly to corporations. This, in turn, has led to new marketing approaches that are better understood by, and appeal more to, corporations. An emphasis on project management expertise will resonate more with corporate than law firm customers. At least this is my personal experience. 

Most of those in the e-discovery business with whom I've shared my theories agree with my second theory. Not so much with the first. Because I believe that both theories have merit, however, I'll keep inflaming my carpal tunnels to share news, thoughts, and tips about legal project management to keep the good LPM-vibes radiating throughout the legal universe. 

Cue Grateful Dead, Estimated Prophet:

My time coming, any day, don't worry about me, no
Been so long I felt this way, I'm in no hurry, no

[1] LexisNexis Applied Discovery, 2009 Survey on E-Discovery Project Management, at{879399B9-1C2F-4AFE-9A75-DF3EC82BFF47}&source_filter=Surveys+And+Reports&bookmark={879399B9-1C2F-4AFE-9A75-DF3EC82BFF47} (last visited on Oct. 10, 2009).

[2] Grateful Dead, Estimated Prophet, Terrapin Station (Arista Records 1977), lyrics available at (last visited Oct. 10, 2009).

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on October 10, 2009 5:38 AM.

ALSP Webinar (kinda) Discusses Corporate Litigation Project Management & EDD was the previous entry in this blog.

Job Advice: Legal Project Management is Swell, but it Won't Make Up for Technological Ineptitude is the next entry in this blog.

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