“This Is Not a Dark Ride”

Is there a reason some lawyers are scared at the idea of Legal Project Management?

Actually, I’ve heard numerous reasons since I wrote the book introducing the subject:

  • It will take away our autonomy.
  • It will introduce too much bureaucracy.
  • Legal work doesn’t follow a formula.
  • I don’t understand it.

To the lawyer who once offered that last explanation, I thank you for your honesty. What we don’t understand can be scary, intimidating even. But in Legal Project Management everything is exposed, shared, open, and available.

As for the other reasons… I’ll get to them in a minute.

Dark Rides

A dark ride is an amusement park ride where participants are whisked on moving seats past a group of scenes, with the areas between scenes kept dark. (Or dark-ish, as in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean.) Often there are characters that jump out at the visitors to scare them – and in the original dark ride, the tunnel of love, to perhaps allow the two people per row to clutch at each other in social propriety.

Bruce Springsteen’s video for his song Tunnel of Love famously contains a brief shot near the end where the camera zooms quickly in on a sign reading, “This is not a dark ride.” It’s a brilliant touch for a song about the ambiguities of love, about getting in your own way because of your fears – because of course the tunnel of love is a dark ride.


Legal Project Management, however, is not a dark ride.

Ghosts won’t come out of the dark. Pirates won’t chase you over a waterfall.

Reasons Excuses

Most of the excuses – sorry, reasons – for avoiding Legal Project Management hold no water.

For example, Legal Project Management will affect the autonomy only of lawyers used to flailing about at random – and running up bills – without anyone objecting.

Those times are long gone, if indeed they ever existed.

Legal Project Management doesn’t tell you how to practice law. Rather, it helps you organize all of the work that supports the practice of law, from schedules (calendars) to staffing to fiscal responsibility to maintaining a client focus while problems are leaping at you out of the dark.

Bureaucracy? Much business bureaucracy stems from bad leadership, from hide-the-blame rather than seek-success structures. Legal Project Management does not impose bad leadership, but rather fosters the opposite, good and effective leadership. I’m not suggesting that learning about Legal Project Management will turn bad managers into good leaders, but it can offer them a picture of effective leadership coupled with some tools for improving as a manager and leader. I certainly know of horror stories driven by terrible project managers with no sense of their own shortcomings, but such managers will find a way to disrupt productive work whether they are technically project managers or not.

Finally, Legal Project Management does not force lawyers to follow a formula. Indeed, I wish there were a formula for Legal Project Management, which would make it a lot easier to teach. However, like good lawyering, it relies on a combination of training, experience, and common sense.

Training, experience, common sense: that’s what Legal Project Management comes down to.

Effective training, even a day or two, can teach you the keys to managing legal projects. You get better at managing such projects with experience, starting by drawing on your own previous experience managing your cases. And common sense, if not quite as common as one might suppose, is a trait good lawyers can, should, and usually do develop over their careers.

Nothing scary here.

Everything about Legal Project Management is exposed, open to inspection, lit brightly.

As the sign says, “This is not a dark ride.”

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