Legal Project Management: Serious Time & Money Savings

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Legal Project Management: Serious Time & Money Savings

Two recent blog posts got us thinking about the subject of project management (see Pam Woldow and Ron Friedman). In the legal world we call this . . . wait for it . . . legal project management or LPM for short. Fairly obvious name right? What it means though is less obvious, at least to many lawyers and other legal professionals. Too often the thought is that LPM is purely software or worse, some relic from the manufacturing world that has been repurposed to serve the legal markets. When it is explained that it is a practice methodology and a very practical one at that – the head scratching or look of disinterest usually ensue. But when it is demonstrated that you can save serious money with utilizing LPM – then ears perk and eyes widen a bit. So let us say it again here – LPM can save you money – lots of it.

Before we get to how to save money let’s focus for a minute on what it is. Steven Levy – who literally wrote the book on this – describes LPM as:

Legal Project Management, or LPM, is the application of the principles of project management to legal cases, files, or matters. Project management is far more comprehensive than “schedules and plans.” It is the practice of leadership, the striving for effectiveness and efficiency, budget discipline and profitability, and most of all, managing people as well as projects.

This is a fairly straight forward definition. And yes from time to time a Gantt chart maybe used or terms like “scoping” and “creep” but rest assured LPM is more or less about communication. The biggest change to applying LPM to the law is that LPM requires communication upfront – more so than most lawyers are comfortable with at first. Often lawyers are used to simply taking a project and running with it; throwing themselves into it and addressing challenges as they arise. LPM forces folks to pause before starting in order to identify potential challenges on the front end and determine a strategy to either avoid or address them when they arise. This does not take a lot of time so we are not talking about significant delay or conference calls and meetings. So while it may take some time early on it helps avoid the misuse of time down the road. How many lawyers like to misuse time? Think that time is billable? It is not too much fun to write hours off.

LPM in short changes the focus of a project from “what is going to get done” to “how it is going to get done.” By asking “how?” the focus immediately is turned to planning. Planning allows for the right calibration of precision and practicality. How much should the team focus on what things, for what amount of time and to what end. Goals are defined. Too often the goals are something as abstract as “win” or get the project “done.” Winning can take many forms – beating your opponent, spending less money, keeping a matter out of the press/news, preventing your opponent from doing something, etc. “Done” can also mean many things such as filing the necessary paperwork on time, avoiding an injunction, stopping work when the budget is exhausted or until someone simply says “stop.” We all know and have been on projects that have predetermined definition of “win” or “done.” These projects seem to meander. The team’s energy levels fade and rise with no prediction or control. Every obstacle is treated as a crisis. Attrition becomes a problem and people leave the team to work on other things. It gets bad. It becomes totally inefficient.

So how does LPM save you money? Hopefully that is apparent now. While this is a brief article on the topic it does introduce the major piece of cost savings that LPM can offer – time savings (check out Paul Easton’s blog for a great overview of where LPM is today). Time is still literally money in the law – whether you are billing by the hour or are on a fixed fee/alt fee of some sort. In almost every scenario the less time you spend on something the less costly it will be. We see it all time from the staffing side. Staffing can be a large component of overall cost to a matter. Handled properly the costs easily justify the goal and are properly managed. Handled with less attention and communication – well let’s just say that it gets expensive quickly. That is one of the main reasons we believe so strongly in project management and apply it where and when we can – even on our own internal projects.

Project management does not mean less money for a law firm or a staffing firm. It means greater value to your clients – which means more work in the future. LPM also makes the use of time more efficient – freeing up otherwise used time to be available for new matters or new clients. In today’s business climate who could not use more time like this?

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