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Is Legal-Project Management a Buzzword?

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Apparently, to Project Counsel, "legal-project management" is an annoying "buzz phrase." Or so that is how it is referred to in an otherwise well-written article on the surge in litigation and compliance document review in Europe. Legal-project management comes up in the article when they explain how a "global holistic approach to GRC (governance, risk, compliance)" is one of "the two biggest changes [...] driving more in-house work [and] more use of outsourcing." Immediately after the term "GRC," they emphasize that it is a "'buzz phrase' sometimes more annoying than 'the cloud', 'early case assessment' and 'legal project management'."[1] 

Has legal-project management (LPM) become a buzzword? The Wikipedia entry on "Buzzword" explains that it is:

a term of art or technical jargon that has begun to see use in the wider society outside of its originally narrow technical context by nonspecialists who use the term vaguely or imprecisely. Labelling a term a "buzzword" pejoratively implies that it is now used pretentiously and inappropriately by individuals with little understanding of its actual meaning who are most interested in impressing others by making their discourse sound more esoteric, obscure, and technical than it otherwise would be.[2]
From this definition, I would say, yes, LPM has become a buzzword. It is amazing to me that in just a couple years, LPM has gone from a being a term used by a few people familiar with project-management standards and best practices in other industries wondering how they can apply these standards and practices to the practice of law, to becoming a buzzword so popular that the term risks dilution at the hands of litsupport and law firm marketing departments that feel the need the sprinkle it into their Web sites, brochures, and sales pitches. 

The problem with calling a term a "buzzword," however, is that it is often wielded as a weapon of derision. The author or speaker who calls a term a "buzzword" often intends to call into question the entire concept, practice, or technology that the term stands for, not just the misuse of the term. Often, when I see writers calling legal-project management a "buzzword," they are implying that the concept and practice itself is merely a fad. 
I'll give Project Counsel the benefit of the doubt, however, and assume that they are annoyed with the pretentious and inappropriate use of "legal-project management," rather than the concept and practice of legal-project management itself. After all, they have the word "project" in their name. Yet, even if this is the case, why be annoyed at success? 

This reminds me the late 90s when the term "nanotechnology" started to go main stream and I would read papers and hear presentations where the authors and speakers would feel compelled to explain what they meant by the term and decry the increased, unorthodox, use of the term by the unwashed mashes. It was rather funny to see experts acting like wizards after the muggles discovered their book of spells.  

When a concept becomes popular, it becomes watered down by the majority of those who use it, since they will, by necessity, only have shallow understanding of it. That doesn't mean that the original concept is any less useful or that you now have to search out a new word for it. The iPod Nano and Tata Nano do no lessen the usefulness of the term "nanotechnology" among nanotechnologists who understand it to mean technology at the nanometer scale, and not technology that is comparatively small. The term legal-project management is not made worthless just because many use it as a fancy re-branding of practice, task, and/or time management.

So, rather then being annoyed by the misuse of the term "legal-project management," be happy that it is getting the recognition it deserves and see the misuse as an opportunity to educate and establish the depth of your expertise in the area. 

[1] Project Counsel, From Europe: the Surge in Litigation and Compliance Document Review, Project Counsel, Jan. 28, 2011, .

[2] Buzzword, Wikipedia, (last modified Jan. 26, 2011).

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on January 31, 2011 10:00 PM.

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