Recent surveys documenting the increasing need for legal services by businesses worldwide and the commensurate increase in the costs of these services also indicate that these companies are dissatisfied with the services provided by their outside legal firms.1 One of these recent surveys found over seventy percent of Fortune 1000 corporate counsel were dissatisfied with their primary outside counsel. The reasons for client dissatisfaction most often cited in these surveys include: high fees and costs (along with inadequate invoices and insufficient detail to justify the value added), lack of responsiveness, poor communications, over lawyering, failure to understand the clients’ business and objectives, and poor quality of the work or results. The same surveys indicate clients are becoming more proactive at demanding lower costs and better service by terminating or demoting underperforming law firms, reducing the number of law firms they use, and insisting on various cost controls and performance metrics. These controls and metrics include: detailed task-based budgets, alternative fee arrangements, formatted and detailed billings, frequent and detailed written progress reports, end-of-matter assessments, and minimum requirements for associate staff and client approvals for changes to assigned legal staff.
The introduction of project management principles and project management professionals into legal matters is an ideal way for law firms to directly and effectively address the reasons clients are dissatisfied with their outside legal services. Project management is the discipline of organizing and managing a team of individuals in initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing out a required scope of work within a specified period of time and within a given budget.2 Project management in some form is used extensively in virtually all segments of the business world and has long been recognized as a critical tool for businesses to use to maintain a competitive edge. However, the legal profession has been reluctant to look for opportunities to reduce costs, improve client communications and relationships, and deliver quality services. This may be changing albeit very slowly. A search of the web indicates that the legal profession may only now be realizing the tremendous benefits of integrating a project management component into their suite of legal services for transactions (e.g., intellectual property matters, mergers and acquisitions, funding of technology ventures, etc) and for dispute resolution (e.g., litigation, arbitration, mediation, etc.).
Using experienced project management professionals in legal matters can provide significant benefits to law firms and their clients:
- A project manager with the appropriate skills and experience can efficiently and effectively develop, monitor and report on the status of detailed scopes of work, task-based budgets, resource allocations, and schedules. These activities will aid the project manager in controlling costs, ensuring on-time delivery of submittals or work products, and overseeing the overall quality of the work.
- The value of the legal services provided can be significantly enhanced by using a project manager for case management while the legal professionals concentrate on case development. What’s more, fees for project management professionals are typically comparable to mid- or senior-level associates’ rates which increases the value of the services provided.
- By serving as a unified point of contact, a project manager can facilitate more responsive and effective communications between the legal team and client representatives. This increased responsiveness can significantly strengthen the relationship between the law firm and the client.
- The delivery of the legal services is equally as important as the quality of the legal services in meeting a client’s needs and expectations. A law firm who proactively uses a project manager for case management is in a position to exceed client needs and expectations which not only helps them retain the client but greatly increases their chances for obtaining more assignments.
While there may be some degree of tension over selecting a project manager having substantive knowledge of the subject matter and one having only process expertise in project management, an ideal project manager for legal matters should possess both. Having substantive knowledge of the subject matter and knowledge of and experience with the legal process is invaluable in helping the project manager thoroughly understand and accurately report on case management and case development activities to both the legal team and the client. Obviously, knowledge of and practical experience with conventional project management tools and techniques (such as Microsoft Project) is essential for successfully managing a case. However, a project manager who also has expertise with spreadsheet, database, case management, and graphics software tools and techniques can contribute additional value to a legal team.
An effective project manager for legal matters should possess a core set of skills or attributes that maximize their ability to initiate creative, cost-effective and time-efficient ways of managing a case and achieving the ultimate goals. The core set of skills should include:
- Collect, compile and analyze project information independently from multiple sources.
- Create, maintain and analyze detailed project plans, resource allocations, schedules, and budgets.
- Anticipate, identify and develop plans to prevent or mitigate potential issues or risks.
- Establish procedures to ensure quality of client deliverables.
- Maintain a high level view of the goals and objectives, and strategies and tactics of the case.
- Accommodate legitimate changes in work scope and schedule.
- Convene and conduct productive meetings of multi-disciplinary teams of professionals.
- Manage high volumes of complex information and data.
- Manage multiple priorities and concurrent cases or projects.
- Conduct clear oral communications with legal, technical and financial/business team members and client representatives.
- Prepare concise written reports and memos on case status including detailed explanations of work completed to date, and clear explanations of any changes in scope, schedule and/or budget.
- Ability to work with and to provide leadership, mentorship and guidance to multi-disciplinary teams of professionals.
- Ability to actively listen to multiple viewpoints of team members and client representatives and to work toward a consensus solution of their different viewpoints and objectives.
Determining whether the use of a project manager in legal matters is appropriate for a law firm will depend on many factors including: the size of the law firm, the size of the firm’s caseload, whether the firm recognizes the need for project management and can it incorporate this function into its existing organizational structure, and whether budget is available to support a project management professional or can the costs be marketed to the client as a value-added service. However, the potential benefits of integrating a project management professional into its legal matters should be seriously considered by any law firm that wishes to differentiate themselves from their competition in today’s global markets by offering their business clientele high quality legal services in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner.
1. In preparing this article, the author reviewed the following surveys:
- How Clients Hire, Fire and Spend: Landing the World’s Best Clients . The BTI Consulting Group. March, 2006.
- The Survey of Client Service Performance for Law Firms . The BTI Consulting Group. 2006.
- 17th Annual Survey of General Counsel . InsideCounsel. July, 2006.
- Altman Weil Law Department Metrics Benchmarking Survey . Altman Weil/LexisNexis. September, 2006.
- Third Annual Litigation Trends Survey Findings . Fulbright & Jaworski, LLP. October, 2006.
- Sixth Annual Managing Outside Counsel Survey . Association of Corporate Counsel/Serengeti. October, 2006.
- Fifth Annual Managing Outside Counsel Survey . Association of Corporate Counsel/Serengeti. October, 2005.
2. The author’s definition of project management is a composite of definitions of project management from the American Management Association, Wikipedia, and the Project Management Institutes.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.