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Project Management’s Last Frontier: Law Firms

by Joseph Raczynski

What would the father of project management Henry Gantt say today?  Having increased its scope to nearly every industry, from civil engineering to defense and software development; project management has rarely delivered at law firms, until now.  The landscape and technology has transformed enough such that project management can and will thrive at law firms.

 

The practice is creeping, yet some scoff.  While recently visiting a mega firm in Washington, DC they admitted to being in the midst of a five year plan to fully adopt and integrate project management within the organization.  They say it is an iterative process, but they are very encouraged thus far.  This direction is due to the demand by clients for alternative fee arrangements.  Now their office is abuzz with terms like scope creep, Agile, and Gantt charts.  This is intriguing because multiple conversations with third to seventh year associates at various large firms confirms one thing, we are still in the evolving phase of understanding.  There is a temporary disconnect between some attorneys and what is just ahead.  Nearly every associate balked at the idea that a project manager utilizing technology tools like Microsoft Project will be a part of their existence.  However, that said, increasingly I see management paring out positions for project managers and instilling the processes.   These two will align soon.

 

As a project manager for full life cycle development for many years and consulting to law firms in technology now, these processes making sense in medium and large law firms for the following reasons:

  • With the increase in alternative fee arrangements, project management will allow for greater predictability of costs, revenue and in turn ROI. Compared to the last few years budgets and partner profits will be far more consistent and stable.
  • Cases can be divvied into tasks, thus freeing attorneys to actually lawyer, other areas can be outsourced to the proper resources. Why have partners responsible for so much administrative work like hourly allotment?
  • Technology allows metrics to be introduced which can be used to constantly better the process, e.g. matter management software, client tracking software, i.e. LookUp Precision, OneLog . Project management toolsets are currently being implemented at firms. Additionally model honing will increasingly better predictability. Firms will use technology to determine the profitability of a particular case, assisting them in deciding whether to take it.

The simple premise behind project management is that it is a temporary endeavor, having a defined beginning and end to meet objectives, usually to bring about beneficial change or added value.  Now that the law landscape has evolved, project management has finally its place in the ever elusive law firm.

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