I am often asked just what is Legal Project Management. Because most folks think in terms of their own experience and thus have varying ideas of what it is I have used the following analogy to help frame it. Though it is a basic framework I have found it does aid in adding context to a sometimes slippery topic.
GPS is everywhere today and most people have experience with it in some fashion. Most folks I know have it built right into their cars, while others have pocket-sized units to take on the go, while still others rely on GPS technology built into smartphones or use mobile Google Maps. I think it is safe to say that most everyone uses GPS in some fashion or are at least is familiar with it. So let me use it as a metaphor for Legal Project Management (LPM).
When you have a GPS and want to go somewhere you first punch in the destination. The unit then calculates the route based on a number of factors – some user-defined such as, “avoid traffic,” “quickest route” or “scenic.” Based on these variables the unit will then calculate other variables like traffic patterns, weather, time of day, etc. and then plot your course. You can then proceed per the visual and audio guidance the GPS is providing. It is always reading the road ahead, providing feedback and directional changes in advance of you arriving. If you were to stray off course the GPS unit will recalculate based on your current position and can either track you back to the point you departed the route or simply redirect you to your destination based on where you are. You are never lost and in most cases can tell how long it will be before you arrive at your destination. Most importantly you can always change your destination mid-course or enter numerous destinations and proceed accordingly.
LPM is in many ways similar to GPS. Constructed properly a LPM plan will provide a roadmap, guidance, be able to address and react to variables, and always lead you toward your destination with a sense of visibility and confidence. But just like a GPS, without a destination or goal defined, LPM is relatively worthless. Further, GPS does not actually “drive” or execute, it guides and monitors just like with an LPM strategy – having a plan will not be enough, someone will still need to actually perform the work.
When I am working with corporations and law firms it is not shocking to learn that often times the goal(s) have been ill defined. Ask different people and you get different answers as to what the goals of a project are. Most enlightening are projects that involve both outside and in-house counsel. Ask outside counsel what they determine a “win” to be and then ask in-house what their definition is. Disparity often? You bet. Why? It is not because outside counsel is ambivalent, or ignorant, or unconcerned. It is most often that the goal was discussed once at that outset of the project and never again since. As the project progressed and variables came into play that could alter the potential paths or even the eventual goal no one was ensuring that this was communicated throughout the team. Without a constant feedback loop the LPM strategy may ultimately become ineffective and in most cases complicate things and drive up costs.
It is as if you were driving in your car using your GPS heading to the grocery store but remembered half way there that you need to fill up on gas first. You would not expect to the GPS to just automatically head to the gas station based on your realization. You would need to input the destination and let the GPS recalculate. Similarly, in-house counsel needs to ensure that there is sufficient communication occurring to allow for recalibration and consideration of the LPM. Note that I have put in-house counsel in the “driver’s seat” operating the GPS (For more on what in-house should be doing revisit the open letter written by Pamela Woldow). Though outside counsel may be responsible for achieving the goal(s) it is the responsibility of in-house counsel to provide the necessary parameters and ensure that if there is a change of destination that outside counsel is aware of it and recalculates.
LPM can be used to get you anywhere and accomplish most things but it does require communication. And often times there simply is not enough of it to make legal project management as effective as it needs to be.
I use the scenario of LPM within the context of outside and in-house counsel working on a project. Obviously LPM can be deployed internally on matters of legal department management that do not directly involve outside counsel. So to can law firms deploy LPM within their firms to accomplish any number of tasks and projects.
When the Project Whispers, “Get Out”
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