Monday, January 25, 2010

Legal Project Management as your GPS (a basic overview)

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.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jury Verdicts & Settlement research: Part of ECA

To follow up on my last post, I thought I would add a quick note on the topic of Jury Verdict and Settlement research. Any early case assessment strategy as part of a litigated matter will most likely encompass a valuation component. How much does the Plaintiff know to state as the value(s) of the matter(s)? How does a Defendant know what the value is? Research. And this has nothing to do with ediscovery but everything to do with ECA.

Here is a link to a posting by Jamerra Cherry a 12 year veteran medical malpractice paralegal in Philadelphia. It states in part:
No matter what type of law you practice, researching jury verdicts and settlements is an important part of any case. How would you know a plaintiff's demand is over the top if you didn't research it? Don't wait until your case has been active for a year to start researching. Early case assessment is helpful when going to mediations, arbitrations or when having a meeting with your client. Plaintiffs utilize verdict research to outline and support a demand. On the flip side, defendants use verdict research to state why a plaintiff's demand is unreasonably high. In order to properly evaluate your case, verdict and settlement research is key.

Click HERE to read the full article.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Early Case Assessment is being marketed NOT provided

Early Case Assessment (ECA) has gained momentum recently as ediscovery matures and clients look to improve their ability to not just respond but detect and assess issues proactively. The unfortunate truth is that the strong majority of proposed ECA solutions or products are nothing more that ediscovery accelerators. What is being sold is not necessarily ECA but a quicker more robust ediscovery process. The fact is that ECA has been around for decades and it is not something that can be addressed by technology alone or by speeding up the ediscovery process (though this could be useful at times.)

According to the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution ("CPR") “[ECA] is a simple conflict management process designed to facilitate informed decisions-making at the early stages of a dispute.” In providing these guidelines the stated purpose of CPR is actually a better definition of what ECA should be.
“[To] set forth a process designed to help businesses decide early on how to manage disputes, including identifying key business concerns, assessing risks and costs, and making an informed choice or recommendation on how to handle the dispute.”

Notice use of the word “dispute” rather than “case.” ECA is often deployed prior to any formal action being taken by a party. In many ways proper ECA could be called “Early Matter Identification,” “Early Issue Detection,” of “Early Scoping & Strategy.” There are many other names as well. The point is that with ECA, there does not need to be an actual case at hand. It can be proactive, a self-diagnosis or evaluation of the party or position, or it can be reactionary, used to take inventory on resources, strength of opposition, variables in play, etc.

Lawyers have been practicing ECA arguably since the profession first came into existence. It is a process of gathering information on the client and issue(s) to determine the nature and scope of the matter (potential or real). It is the initial fact gathering that can occur on the first meeting between client and attorney. Obviously in today’s’ market, this process can be complicated and protracted by such factors as size of the corporate client, nature of the issue(s), number of potential parties, volume and location of potential evidence, and the complexity of any potentially applicable laws, regulations, etc. But the essence of ECA is simple - learn what you can as quick as you can to determine if and how to proceed. To put it into the human context it could be analogous to the “fight or flight” response that is triggered in a given situation by all the information our senses take in at a given moment. Though typically not as dramatic or swift, ECA is similar – based on what we know now what should we do? And what more do we need to learn?

It has been stated that conducting "very good" ECA often results in learning at the front-end roughly 80% of all that you will ever know about a matter. This means looking at "the facts and the law and the witnesses and the documents" according to PD Villarreal, the head of litigation for Schering-Plough. It has also been noted that where ECA is performed the results can be significant for the matter overall leading to a favorable outcome 75% of the time and halving litigation costs.

Therefore, ECA spans a greater spectrum of practices and concerns than ediscovery. Though it can aid in coming to the meet and confer better prepped on the ediscovery issues of a matter it does not necessarily lead or need to be on the front end of ediscovery. It can be used to assess potential issues, conduct preliminary investigations/audits, determine strategy and inform settlement prospects – all prior to and sometimes voiding the need for ediscovery.

ECA is a combination of practices and tools. The current market is certainly offering a greater mix of potentially useful tools in this matter but none alone can nor should be labeled ECA. It is being marketed really just as the next generation of the ESI review process – more condensed, more powerful and faster. These tools are indeed helpful and offer strong advantages but true ECA is not simply about getting more relevant data (presumably less volume) in front of reviewers more quickly.

There are millions of dollars being spent on marketing the idea that automated and robust ECA is here today. My view is that this is just marketing hype – wrapping an ediscovery accelerator with the label of early case assessment.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New research highlights financial benefits of legal process outsourcing

Via LegalWeek.com

New research produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers has highlighted the growth of legal process outsourcing (LPO) services in the wake of the economic downturn.

The study, which canvassed 514 outsourcing service providers in 50 countries around the world, identified legal services outsourcing as providing the highest cost savings - 44% - in comparison to other markets.

The research also revealed that LPO services realise the highest profit margin for providers, with an average margin of 29%, ahead of IT (24%), finance and accounting (21%) and procurement (19%).

Meanwhile, 82% of LPO providers that responded to the survey are planning to expand the scale of their existing services over the next two to three years, while 11% of all respondents said that they intend to provide legal services for the first time during the next 18-36 months.

To continue reading full article CLICK HERE