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Corcoran on Legal Project Management

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While doing a little digging into Altman Weil Inc. after reading about their being hired by Dechert LLP to provide legal project management (LPM) training to all of the law firm's partners and associates, I discovered a new blog that those of you interested in LPM might want to add to your blog roll.  Corcoran's Business of Law Blog is authored by Timothy B. Corcoran, a Senior Consultant with Altman Weil. Mr. Corcoran was a co-presenter of Altman Weil's recent LPM Webinar, and has recently written a couple of informative post introducing his take on LPM.

In a post dated March 15th, simply titled "Legal Project Management," he introduces the concept, discusses how LPM has become a hot topic, and pitches an Altman Weil webinar on the subject. This was followed with a post yesterday (April 5th) that answers frequently asked questions about LPM.[1]

He claims that over the past half year to have "traveled the world" delivering Altman Weil's LPM workshops. Obviously, he doesn't divulge who his clients are or give any geographic information that might lead one to guess, but I would be interested in knowing the general regions where he has been giving LPM workshops and whether these are for offices of U.S. firms or whether non-U.S. law firms and law departments from non-U.S. corporations are also showing an interest.  

I think the most important point from his March 15th post is one that I've often made on this blog (e.g., see here), there is nothing so unique about legal work that it cannot benefit from project management:

Some lawyers believe that the practice of law is not like other professions or business disciplines, and that therefore project management principles which work in other areas do not apply. These lawyers are wrong. That's not to say one can manage a complex legal matter as if it were an automotive assembly line. But every legal matter doesn't have to be treated as a completely unique confluence of steps that has not occurred before and will not occur again. Each of these steps can be broken down and analyzed, and when the opportunity arises for this step to be included in an engagement, there can be a greater understanding of the cost drivers.[1]
Bravo! "These lawyers are wrong" is absolutely right.

His April 5th post contains a good number of interesting tidbits. First, he defines "legal project management" and distinguishes it from case/matter management, something I've struggled with in the past. Mr. Corcoran's definition of LPM is: "the practice of applying tried-and-tested business practices used in other fields to the management of complex legal matters, both litigation and transactions." It is distinguished from case management and matter management in that these:

are approaches to keeping track of the many aspects of legal matters with a particular emphasis on tracking costs. LPM casts a much wider shadow. The intent of LPM is not merely to track costs, but to control costs, to identify areas of variability in order to get in front of scope change before it happens. LPM emphasizes performing the right activities to achieve the desired outcome and not more, while being mindful of one's duty of care and the client's risk tolerance. Doing necessary work that a client will pay for is more efficient than doing unnecessary work that manifests itself in low realization rates.
I'm not sure that I agree that case and matter management places a particular emphasis on tracking costs. I would say most practice management systems are mutt-breed collections of tools for rules-based calendaring, conflict checks, billable time capture, contact management, and document management.  But I do agree that LPM is distinguished by its emphasis on scope control. This includes ensuring that client objectives and expectations are understood and managed so the scope of their legal matter is realistic and documented and that the legal work performed is planned for, monitored, and measured to ensure that the client's requirement's are met on-time and within budget. It would be great if the terms "case/matter management" and "legal project management" were interchangeable. Sadly, at this time, they are not.

Mr. Corcoran reiterates that project management practices can be effectively applied to legal work, and not just "commodity practices":

Very few legal matters introduce completely new concepts. Most law firms acknowledge this themselves by showcasing their lengthy deal lists and league tables. If they only handled truly new and unique matters and cases of first impression, then little of that past experience would be relevant.
He goes on to discuss how LPM can achieve greater law-firm profitability by lowering costs without sacrificing quality and helps manage client expectations. He also underscores a point that I've made in past posts on this blog, that LPM will gain acceptance and be implemented lock-step with alternative fee arrangements:
  
[T]he new math of law firm profitability means lowering the waste and inefficiency we create by performing legal work that cannot be realized. Imagine if there's a capped fee in place, then any waste and ineffiency directly reduces the firm's profitability. While there are many flavors of Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs), essentially they all require that the firm operate more efficiently, and absent a disciplined, rigorous approach like LPM then it's likely, bordering on guaranteed, that the firm will experience profit dilution.... For my consulting practice, an AFA is a primary catalyst for embracing LPM....
The last point Corcoran makes in his April 5th post is that client-facing lawyers need to embrace and not delegate LPM as it is fundamentally about "better serving client needs by setting proper expectations, by providing the right legal services, and by dealing with change." In making this point, he unnecessarily downplays the value of certified project managers to law firms. While not going so far as to say that PM certifications are worthless in the legal environment, he does relegate their use to basic administrative functions, such as report generation:
 
[W]hen LPM involves creating pretty charts and graphs to show our progress on the project plan, then of course there are qualified people on staff who can do this more efficiently than a partner. Some firms have hired certified project managers, but by and large their focus is on understanding the historical costs of delivering legal services, an effort designed to inform the partners when making pricing decisions.
While I agree that lawyers must own the business processes, I think that Mr. Corcoran short-changes the value of professional project managers. Experienced project managers who have dedicated years of their lives to deepening their project-management knowledge, and who have taken the effort to obtain and maintain PM certification, are more than PM-software operators "generating pretty charts." 

Most lawyers are too busy practicing law to gain more than superficial knowledge and experience of project management, much less maintain and provide continued support to a firm's project-management program. This is why many firms that implement project management programs, including Duchert--an Altman Weil client--eventually consider bringing in certified project-management professionals to oversee and continue to develop their project management programs.

While I may disagree with the low value he place on certified project managers, I found Mr. Corcoran's first posts on LPM informative and thought provoking. He's earned a place in my Blogroll and I'm looking forward to his future posts on the subject.
 

[1] Timothy B. Corcoran, Legal Project Management, Corcoran's Business of Law Blog, Mar. 15, 2010, http://corcoranlawbizblog.altmanweil.com/2010/03/15/legal-project-management/ (last visited April 6, 2010); Timothy B. Corcoran, Legal Project Management Q&ACorcoran's Business of Law Blog, April 5, 2010, http://corcoranlawbizblog.altmanweil.com/2010/03/15/legal-project-management/ (last visited April 6, 2010).

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on April 6, 2010 9:00 PM.

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Gleanings from the LPM Blogosphere (A/K/A Regurgitating a Couple Months of Content from People Smarter than Me) is the next entry in this blog.

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