Project management is about as close to a silver bullet as the legal profession could ask for these days. Consider:
- It’s easy to understand.
- It’s inexpensive to implement.
- It lowers costs.
- It improves quality.
- It enhances communication.
- It facilitates lawyer training.
- It makes fixed fees profitable.
- It makes clients happy.
If it could cure cancer and direct an Oscar-winning movie, it could hardly be a more attractive proposition. For a profession suffering from aggravated clients, shrinking revenues, competitive inertia, archaic business practices and system waste, it’s the nearest we’ll come to meeting the definition of “panacea.” And yet, with few (but increasing) exceptions, there’s not much enthusiasm for it among lawyers and law firms — there’s an odd reluctance to embrace something that clearly delivers so many benefits. Identifying the source of that reluctance tells us something very important about lawyers and our capacity to adapt to the new legal marketplace.
The good news is that project management is starting to catch on within the profession. Two excellent recent articles in the legal press illustrate this, one in Canadian Lawyer (in which I’m briefly mentioned) and one in the Legal Intelligencer, which tells the success story of a law firm (Dechert) that took project management seriously, engaged a consultant (Pam Woldow) to help, and can already see the benefits. More good news comes courtesy of Tim Corcoran‘s terrific blog post that addresses common concerns about legal project management and should be read by every firm whose lawyers are generating static about LPM. There’s also a very good book and a very good blog about legal project management by Steven B. Levy. In short, there’s a growing wealth of resources and reasons for lawyers to leap onto the project management express — yet this train still has many empty seats.
These same articles point us in the direction of the problem. “It’s pretty tough to get lawyers to change their ways,” a big-firm partner told Canadian Lawyer. A regional managing partner at Dechert entered training with deep misgivings about its broad applicability. “Doesn’t legal project management apply only to commodity practices?” is a question Tim Corcoran has to address. Resistance to innovation, yes — we all know that fits lawyers to a T. But what really comes across from these accounts is a sense that lawyers aren’t trying project management primarily because they don’t want to. It’s a resistance that does not, I think, have much to do with lawyers’ inability to grasp project management’s features or benefits. I think it has much more to do with lawyers’ distaste for procedure, systematization, methodology, routine — with process. For most lawyers, as my Edge colleague Rob Millard says, “process is a dirty word.” Continue Reading