PROPORTIONALITY: A LITIGATOR’S SURVIVAL GUIDE VI: COULD PROJECT MANAGEMENT HELP?
This series on proportionality for litigators is a long-running one. One suggestion is that “Legal project management” could help. There is a very short entry in Wikipedia as to what “Legal project management” is.
LEGAL PROJECT MANAGEMENT
I put questions to Anthony Smith of Legal Project Management Training Ltd who runs the three-day course on project management for lawyers.
What is “Legal project management”?
“In a nutshell it is the use of project management principles, techniques and skills applied by legal professionals to help them manage their cases more effectively. These are well established methods used throughout industry. Applied to the legal profession they improve effectiveness, efficiency and profitability.”
2. Does it have any relevance to practising lawyers and litigators?
“Key principles of project management for lawyers:
Teamwork: being part of teams and leading teams successfully.
Stakeholder Engagement: looking at all the stakeholders affected by a project (for example, your team members, the client and their team, the other side’s legal team, their client and of course the judge) and then working out how all these people can best be managed so that you get the result you and your client wants.
Effective Communications: never forgetting that communication is a two- way process, how best to ensure everyone knows what they should be doing and when they should be doing it.
Planning: every project must have a realistic plan, covering things such as scope, resource requirements, budget, assumptions, key risks, communication schedule, change control and a short explanation of how you are going to manage the project once it is in flight.
Keeping to the plan but also being flexible enough to adapt the plan to cater for changed circumstances.
Post-Project Review: what worked well? What did not work well? This kind of review should be done after every project (legal matter) and filed away in a project review file. The project review file should be consulted regularly thereafter, otherwise you are likely to keep repeating the same errors from case to case.”
Have you any practical experience?
“My first role and job title in a law firm (almost 30 years ago) was Litigation Support Manager. One of the first things I was asked to do by solicitors in the construction law department was to prepare a timeline of events in a large construction matter. They needed something which could display phases of the construction with events giving rise to the cause of action highlighted and annotated.
So we created some Gantt Charts (diagrammatic representations of tasks set against a timeline). One set of charts set out the litigation timeline in a form the clients could readily appreciate. We found that the greatest impact was in improving communications with our clients.
I have since supplemented hands-on project experience in law by taking courses and qualifications in project management. In 2012, after spending 10 years at Axxia / Lexis-Nexis in the role of Strategic Project Manager I started my consultancy business.
I now spend most of my time training lawyers and related professionals about legal project management, although I still also do some hands-on project management work .”
Is Legal Project Management about practice management or the process of litigation?
“Both. It starts with the practice and being able to organise things (especially people) so that work is done as efficiently as possible. It follows that if a matter has been planned and managed properly then keeping to the Court timetable and any directions etc should be somewhat easier than if the matter is poorly planned (if at all) and managed.”
How would it benefit litigators?
Many lawyers – not just litigators – rush into matters and start work in a laudable attempt to demonstrate client responsiveness. Unfortunately, what can then happen is that a lot of the early work cannot subsequently be justified (and billed).
It is far better to spend some time planning during the preliminary stages of a matter. Planning helps establish a degree of control. It should also help litigators take a realistic view about what resources should be used on the matter bearing in mind the sums at issue and matter complexity. Early planning should also allow time for litigators to consider what the core issues are in the matter and how these issues can best be approached. All this should be done in any event, because of the requirement for costs budgeting, but I do wonder whether litigators plan as properly as they ought.
“The project managers with the most successful outcomes spend twice as much time planning as their less successful counterparts. Some food for thought there. It would be fascinating to find out how much time the most successful litigators spend on planning compared to the rest. My educated guess is that the most successful litigators do in fact spend more time on matter planning than their competitors.”
Legal Project Management is being used in large practices and large cases, but does it really have any relevance to about the medium sized and smaller litigation firms?
“The smaller cases leave less room for error in terms of scoping, resource deployment and overall costs.
My advice is that litigators develop a legal project management toolkit made up of things they can use to help scope and control the range of matters they deal with.
The ‘things’ might be checklists, templates and software. They should then be able to select the most appropriate tool and apply it in the most appropriate way, bearing in mind the size and complexity of the matter at hand. “
I read in your advert for the course that you consider Legal Project Management of particular relevance when it comes to issues of “proportionality” – can you explain why?
“Cost management is an essential element of project management. In many sectors – especially the construction sector – cost management is fundamental.
The Courts are developing the concept of proportionality such that litigators must consider not only the amount at issue and complexity of the matter when budgeting for costs, but also how they intend to run the case throughout. So for example:
Which grade of fee earner is really best placed to do particular tasks?
How should witness statements be collected most efficiently?
Which witness statements should be collected at all?
What is going to be the best approach to disclosure?
All these things can and should be properly planned for, with the plans for each kept under review and developed in light of changing circumstances.
I would like the practice of civil litigation to reach the point where all litigators are adept at producing case plans and cost budgets (they need not have to do all the work themselves – they can delegate and lead their team, which is another component of successful project management). Then, where there has been a significant change to the case plan, they can quickly acquire approval for the changed plan and budget by demonstrating the cost of catering for the change is proportionate. They would be able to do this by reference to the original plan and its subsequent updates.
The civil litigation process may never reach this level of project maturity. Nevertheless, I think most litigators could improve their case management capability by applying and adapting some well-known project management methods and techniques.”