06/15/2011 10:21:00 AM EST
Four ways lawyers should improve project management – A litigator’s view
This guest post was written by Jonathan
Cooper, a partner and trial lawyer at Tucker Ellis & West. It is an edited version of an essay he wrote as
a participant in our Certified Legal Project ManagerTM program, after completing
readings from several leading project management textbooks.
Project managers are required to
plan and to set objectives, up front, in detail. I think that we as lawyers
fall down on this. Often we do not sit down, with our clients and with our teams,
and discuss how to solve the issue. What is the objective? To win at all costs?
To settle the case early? To settle the case between X dollars and Y dollars
before the end of the year? We often dive right in and just start working.
The second area for improvement is that I do not believe that we as
lawyers budget with the team in mind. Budgets are drafted with almost no
thought to how to implement them or measure whether they are being followed or
will be accurate. Budgeting needs to be done after a "road map" of the case has
been at least sketched out. It then needs to be done in conjunction with the
team of players involved. Third, we do not do much to reassess how we are
doing in the middle of the matter. We get some data, but we often do not get
useful data. The budgeting that we do is seldom revised. In fact it is
seldom reviewed at any point after it is drafted.
We need to start letting the budget
drive our decisions which means we need a better way to interact with it. This
is difficult when you have team members that are not dedicated to only one
project. We need to track time spent on a case or a matter and then put it in
the right bucket.
Currently, most budgets are built
along topical lines to set forth dollar values for various portions of the
case. But billing software often does not work that way. It is therefore hard
to extract what Associate A did on the XYZ case that relates to drafting the
first set of interrogatories without examining time entries. The best solution
that I can come up with is to create the budget using the ABA task and activity codes and
to require billing according to those codes. That way, at least we would know
what was billed to that particular task.
The fourth and last area for
improvement is that I think we need to do a much much better job at the end to
see if we achieved the client's goal.
Part of the problem is fed by the
fluidity of litigation. You are never sure what the case will look like at the
end. Facts will come out that were unanticipated. Rulings will be made.
Strategic choices will be made. However, I think for the reasons outlined
above, we make this harder than it should be.
Better planning and orientation
would lead to a better understanding of the case and fewer surprises. The
possible results could be narrowed and ranked and there could be certain "check
offs" like a wide receiver and a quarterback learn depending on how the defense
With better budgets, and better
ability to see where we are midstream with the budgets, we could have a much
better chance of steering toward the expected or hoped for result. With better
budgeting and better accountability, we would know whether we came in under
This is not just a budget issue. We
also need to do a better job of holding people accountable for doing tasks in a
timely manner. If the plan says that associate A is going to draft the opening
set of interrogatories within the first month, we ought to know if it happened
on the right timeline as well as whether it was done "on budget." Without that
you cannot really tell if you succeeded. All you may have is the sort of
subjective belief that the client seemed pleased. Maybe the client is polite
and doesn't really know.
The best thing for the client is to
be shown that you did what you promised. You changed strategy when events
dictated and kept the client informed. The result was within the
anticipated range and the budget was met. Then clients will know what they
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