If you believe what's been written on the web lately, you'd think that the idea of applying project management principles to legal matters was brand new. In fact, however, some lawyers have been focused on these ideas for years, developing new tactics and tools, often under the radar.
For example, consider Deal Dashboard, a web-based collaborative deal space custom developed for two former in-house lawyers who went back to firm practice. It's been available for several years, and is currently being used by a few in-house departments and one law firm.
When McDermott Will & Emery partner Byron Kalogerou conducted a demo for me, he explained that he had previously worked for 14 years as in-house counsel at Tyco, where a great deal of emphasis was placed on developing new systems to cut costs. But when he moved to an outside firm and began talking about project management, he felt that he was living out his college motto: A voice crying in the wilderness. (Kalogerou went to Dartmouth, so naturally the motto was in Latin: Vox clamantis in deserto.)
The Deal Dashboard offers a sophisticated set of web-based tools that, as a McDermott brochure puts it:
Streamline the M&A process, reducing inefficiencies and costs. The Dashboard enables counsel to corral all of the moving pieces of a deal, so that everyone involved knows what needs to be done, by when, by whom, and at what cost.
Kalogerou notes that he and his former colleague, Terry Mahoney, who had also spent many years in-house, sought to develop a tool that brings transparency, accountability and predictability to the transactional relationship.
When work begins on a new deal, the client team sits down with McDermott lawyers to perform the kind of basic planning that professional project managers do on any new job: identify tasks, assign people to each task, set deadlines, and plan the budget. The brochure shows how this works for a typical deal with tasks grouped into four phases: due diligence, negotiations, closing conditions, and post closing.
As the deal proceeds, tasks and issues are tracked online in the Deal Dashboard, so that every team member on both sides of the table can find out exactly where things stand, minute by minute, by reviewing the latest updates at a password-protected site on the web. In the brochure's fictional example, several high priority issues are highlighted for action, such as "plant lease - right of first refusal grant" and "determine whether pre-merger filing is required with the Federal Competition Commission in Mexico."
Just as important, a budget for each phase is established online at the beginning of the deal, whether the work is performed on an hourly basis or for an alternative fee. The system then tracks costs to date, and compares them to the budgeted estimate. In the fictional example in the brochure, the negotiations stage was initially budgeted at $125K. But by the time 75% of the work had been completed, only $85K had been spent. The system calculates the "expected variance" from these figures to show that negotiations could be completed more than $11K under the original budget. (When you do the math, if 75% of the work cost $85,000, 100% of the work would cost $113,333. Subtract that from the original estimate of $125,000, and you'll see a net savings of $11,667.)
McDermott has embraced the Dashboard and legal project management and is looking to deploy the Dashboard in a number of areas, including in litigation. As Kalogerou notes, "Using legal project management and tools like the Dashboard drive efficiency into the way we deliver legal services; clients are demanding value from their law firms and we deliver it."
The concepts of using an online system to facilitate team communication like this, and to track spending, would be old hat in any other business. In the law business, this is a breakthrough. But maybe not for long. As these words are written, large firms are exploring a wide variety of tools that are springing up to meet the need to increase efficiency. Because clients are demanding it.