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Will Lawyers Complete or Break the STEM

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I wasn't going to post today. I've had a rare breathing space this Friday and have enjoyed cleaning out my in-boxes. But Steven Levy wrote a short post on his Lexician blog yesterday that created a small spark I wanted to capture, perhaps to think and write about more in a future post.

His post, entitled "Project Science, Project Heart," shares a pair of acronyms that summarize the attributes of effective project management. They are:

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.

IDEA = Intuition, Design, Emotion, Art.[1]

From these acronyms he draws the following observations:

Every project manager understands the former. Too few understand the latter -- but the really good project managers do get it.

When you manage a project, you are responsible not just for the mechanical aspects but the soft skills, the human aspects as well. Never forget that part.

STEM is efficiency, but efficiency without effectiveness is an arrow without a target. You need IDEA to manage projects effectively.[2]

These are very good points, but the interesting thing to me is that in legal project management one might find the inverse of his observations to be true. When it comes to lawyers thrust into project management roles, they intuitively understand the later (the IDEA attributes), but too few understand the former (the STEM attributes). Yet, when you are an attorney managing a large, complex, legal project, you are not only responsible for the human aspects of the project, but the mechanical as well. Effectiveness without efficiency in the provision of legal services no longer cuts it. 

This relates to the debate over whether lawyers or traditional litigation support professionals are better suited for legal project management.[3]  Lawyers are strong in the IDEA skill set. Traditional litigation support staff, who often come from an IT background, tend to be stronger in the STEM skill set. Given how often communication skills are touted as the most important attribute for great project managers, it would seem to that lawyers actually have a leg up. 

The problem is that great communication and management skills will not make up for technological ineptitude.[4] This is an easier argument to make in e-discovery project management, where the importance of the STEM skills are more apparent.[5] It is harder, however, to see why science, technology, engineering, and math might be important to the management of legal work in general. This is because, until recently, the lawyers have not been under much pressure to map out their work, engineer more efficient processes, and measure the results. 

With a poor economy causing customers of legal services to demand lower costs, more accurate estimates, and alternative billing structures, it will be interesting to see whether law firms grow thicker STEMs.

[1] Steven Levy, Project Science, Project Heart, Lexician, Dec. 17, 2009, available at (last visited on Dec. 18, 2009).

[2] Id.

[3] Paul C. Easton, The Lawyerification of Litigation Support: Is a Legal Education a Benefit or Just Baggage for an E-discovery Project Manager?, Legal Project Management, Sep. 25, 2009, available at (last visited on Dec. 19, 2009).

[4] Paul C. Easton, Job Advice: Legal Project Management is Swell, but it Won't Make Up for Technological Ineptitude, Legal Project Management, Oct. 12, 2009, available at (last visited on Dec. 19, 2009).

[5] Paul C. Easton, Do You Have What it Takes to be an E-discovery Project Manager?, Legal Project Management, Sep. 15, 2009, available at (last visited on Dec. 19, 2009).

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on December 18, 2009 10:37 PM.

ALI-ABA CLE Course on Legal Project Management Now Available on Demand was the previous entry in this blog.

Julian Ackert on the Key to Successful E-discovery Project Management is the next entry in this blog.

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