LPM Panel

Are You a Natural Project Manager?

Last week I attended a lunch hour panel discussion on Legal Project Management. It was organized by my friend, Tracy Drynan, on behalf of the eDiscovery Committee under the District of Columbia Bar Litigation Section at the request of Ellen (“Elle”) Pyle, the current Committee Chair.

Tracy invited Ed Lin, Jessica Robinson and James Whitehead to participate. I have known Ed Lin for many years. After working as general counsel for a technology firm, he briefly worked on the service provider side and he is currently the firm-wide manager of Practice Technology at Crowell & Moring LLP. He is an excellent manager and he has groomed a number of our leading litigation support professionals in the DC area.

Jessica Robinson started out as an attorney briefly and she has worked in litigation support roles for the last 10 years. She is currently the Director of Practice Support, eData at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. Jessica is passionate about Legal Project Management and she teaches an LPM course in the paralegal studies program at Georgetown University. We have gotten to know each other while working as Adjunct Professors in the same program.

James Whitehead began his career in the United States Air Force working 4 years as a paralegal. He then spent 7 years in legal IT roles before moving over to litigation support roles about 7 years ago. He is currently a manager at Intelligent Discovery Solutions. After years of working in litigation support, James decided to take Jessica's LPM course and he has applied what he learned from that point forward.

I have heard all three of these individuals speak several times in other venues, however listening to them share their knowledge in this focused topic of Legal Project Management was very enjoyable because “I get it”. I have been a proponent of applying project management workflow to litigation support/eDiscovery matters, even before we started calling it Legal Project Management. I have struggled over the years with many of the same issues they raised. I am pleased that the legal industry is slowly but surely beginning to embrace Legal Project Management techniques, even if some attorneys are being forced to the table by their corporate clients.

The field of project management spans most industries. Clients of the legal services industry understand and implement project management principles in their business operations. Savvy clients are now expecting their outside counsel to apply these principles as well. They are including this requirement in their RFPs.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) was founded in 1969. PMI launched their first credential called PMP in 1984. As of June 2013, over 500,000 people hold the PMP credential. In 2007, the PMP credential earned ISO accreditation. Several of my friends are currently studying for the PMP exam.

LPM PanelThe panel began by describing how project management principles fit within the legal industry. For the eDiscovery/Litigation Support application, the panel referred to it as “extreme project management”. I like that and wholeheartedly agree. As they explained, “we are not making a product like the construction industry or the software industry”; “we are dealing with people”. Jessica added that it is heightened even more because we are dealing with people “in the legal industry”.

James explained that Legal Project Management uses project management principles as a baseline. Strategies change on the fly. “We're dealing with competing professionals – the attorneys, the client and the consultant. Each professional has issues outside the matter itself. Each professional has competing needs.” I like the way he described this — it is the reality.

Flexibility of the project manager is key. Jessica asks “Are you a project manager just because you manage things called projects? No. Are you a project manager because your title is project manager? No. Are you a project manager because you have a PMP certification? No.” Jessica told us “you are a project manager if you apply the tools, techniques and disciplines of project management that are relevant to the project environment in which you work.”

The panel agreed that there are “natural project managers”. These are people that do not have a PM degree or certification or perhaps even the job title, but they intuitively manage projects well. These people have a “process project management approach.” They get involved in the beginning of a matter, they understand the scope, they create an outline and they create a workflow. They described me.

LPM PanelEd told us that clients want us to be creative to save costs. They want us to use resources efficiently to save costs. Ed believes there should be a technical project manager and a legal project manager (lawyers). He suggested that we follow the project management principles, but we should be flexible.

One big takeaway that the panel kept repeating is to ask yourself “How do I add value?” More importantly, we need to communicate that value. Specifically state where we saved costs or where we added efficiency. Make it known at a meeting or on a client conference call. Make sure they are aware immediately after you add value. Don't wait until the end of the project or when a bill gets sent to the client. Another takeaway was that the project manager must have technical acumen.

Legal Project Management requires that you put all of the decision makers in the same room. Ask why a decision was made. How do we solve the problem? We are a stakeholder, but we are not being asked for our input. It was suggested that we “manage up” to the person who has the authority to say yes or no. Be a 360 leader/project manager. This was a reference to the book entitled The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization. We need to understand what is driving the decision maker so that we can better influence.

A framework is different than a process. Build the project into phases (within the EDRM model). Be able to shorten each process or phase as needed. The panel agreed that each law firm is different. What works for one firm may not work for another. Think about the culture at your firm. How do they do their work? We know that each practice group develops their own framework to practice law, therefore we need to apply a different project management plan to each practice group.

James told us that he likes to think of it as a framework of decision trees. It is a toolkit of processes or decision trees. It is very fast moving. The project manager can not think of everything. There will probably be something that happens that has never happened before. Ask yourself, “is there a possibility it could happen again?” Put something in place. Know that something that was true last week may not be true this week, especially as it relates to technology tools. Perform an “after action review” or a “postmortem” so that you'll know what you did the last time that particular thing happened.

LPM PanelTracy posed a question to the panel related to how we should hurdle resistance. Ed said “we are seeing it more and more from the clients — they want us to use legal project management”. On the flip side, we need to show the clients we are using legal project management. Find “that” person in your firm and convince them first. Jessica added “prove the value-add “in the moment” as well as “in the aggregate”. For example, “this is where we saved costs today” or “this is where we streamlined the project today”.

Ed suggested to the room that we “be a little more client facing”. He has found that to be beneficial in showing the client exactly how his department adds value in real time.

Throughout the presentation, the term “project management lexicon” was used. I looked it up afterwards. It is a list of project management terms and their definitions. I plan to start using some of the terms I haven't used before.

Jessica highly suggested that we read a book called Scrappy Project Management: The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces. I also found this PDF version of a presentation on the author's website.

[Tweet “Legal project mgmt is extreme project mgmt. People with competing needs. #ediscovery”]

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