Lawyers will always be free to decide how they chose to practice law; the market will, however, decide who the winners and the losers are. Winning in e-discovery increasingly means adopting lean, efficient business practices. These practices include (but are not limited to) using project management and appropriate measures of quality to reduce cost and to mitigate risk.
This powerful statement is from the Sedona Conference’s Commentary on Achieving Quality in the E-Discovery Process. The drafters of the Commentary argue for the application of formal project management methodologies by lawyers. This is a short endorsement of this argument, with links to other sources of authority.
Wikipedia defines project management as “the discipline of planning, organizing, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives.” “Projects” are distinct from “processes” because they have a beginning and an end and particular goals and objectives. Project management is also a professional discipline, with concepts that enable better control over projects and that are embodied in a leading model – the Project Management Institutes’ “PMBOK.”
This is about all that I am qualified to tell you about project management because I am only a lawyer who carries litigation files. I do accept, however, that I owe it to myself, my firm and its clients to develop project management competencies. My own perspective may not count for much, but does highlight the true significance of the Sedona Conference position on project management; to at least some degree, the Commentary is a message from practising litigators to practising litigators about the need to bring formal project management methodologies to bear on litigation files.
There are other sources of authority for the pro-project management argument, starting with the CBA Code of Professional Conduct mandate to serve clients in an “efficient manner” through the application of “adequate knowledge of the practice and procedures by which [legal] principles can be effectively applied.” And, like the Sedona Conference, Slawyers Debbie Westwood and Jordan Furlong have stressed that lawyers should develop project management skill for competitive (and not merely professional) reasons. Westwood says, “The smart litigator will get a handle on project management now; not just because the client expects it, but because the smart litigator knows this is the way to offer better value than the competition.” Furlong is not as charitable: “…today, everybody project-manages: it’s SOP in corporate life, and lawyers are the only ones in the business chain who seem to have missed the memo.”
In making a similar point to Westwood and Furlong, I don’t wish to obscure the live debate about the ideal division of project management responsibility between lead counsel, other lawyers acting on a file and litigation support professionals. The Sedona Commentary does not suggest that lead counsel should become project management leaders and, instead, says that files should benefit from a “lead e-discovery attorney in charge” who is “empowered by the client to manage the effort of counsel and service providers.” Others, like e-discovery and litigation support consultant Brett Burney, say that the project management specialist role is best performed by professional project managers.
I take no position on whether lawyers or litigation support professionals are better suited to play the role of legal project management specialist. I only say that all litigators need at least basic project management acumen regardless of the staffing model which they most commonly employ. Staffing files with a project management specialist is not an option on smaller files, but project management itself is still required. On larger files, the development of litigator project management acumen is an important change management objective that will help teams of individuals function well and project management (through a project management specialist) succeed. And finally, project management supports alternative billing and the business aspects of a litigation practice.
Do you have a view on the importance of project management to a litigation practice? A view on who should contribute project management expertise to litigation files? A view on how to get litigators on board? Please comment below.
(Thanks to my colleague and trained project manager Heather Colman for directing me to some great resources on legal project management.)