Legal Business

Book review: Project management for lawyers


Buy this book. (Right after you buy mine.)

Project Management for Lawyers was written by two experts in this emerging field: Barbara Boake, a senior partner at McCarthy Tetrault, and Rick Kathuria, a certified Project Management Professional at the same firm. The book draws on their experience developing and implementing McCarthy's Dialogue Project Management system, so it is heavy on the kinds of "lessons from the trenches" that lawyers will find invaluable.

And if that's not enough, Part Two of the book includes additional case studies written by experts from Dechert, Eversheds, and Seyfarth Shaw, and one from the client perspective at the Royal Bank of Canada. And if that's still not enough, it comes with a CD filled with forms, templates and checklists, including a generic work plan, a client satisfaction review questionnaire, a project risk log, a sample staffing plan, and a sample change request form.

Chapter 1 makes the business case for project management, starting with the fact that "clients want to see a clearer link between the cost of legal services and the value of those services to their business." The authors also note that "The market has placed a premium on predictability, efficiency and cost control" and "Alternative fee arrangements pose a threat to firm profitability unless they can be priced and managed using some kind of project management framework" (p. 6-7).

But the real value of the book lies not in the why of project management, but in the hard won wisdom of how to make it work.

Consider, for example, what Ben Barnett and Colleen Nihill, authors of the Dechert case study in this volume, have to say about letters of engagement (p. 79):

In the after glow and rush of a new client matter, scant attention is normally paid to defining specifically what the client has retained you to do. This oversight can haunt and even derail the entire project. Most of the problems in project management have their genesis in the failure to define.

Or consider Boake and Kathuria's step by step guidance on defining new work, including this advice (p. 35):

Review the assumptions with your client to ensure that they are fully understood. If you discover that an assumption is incorrect at the beginning of a matter, it is easily addressed with a revised plan and estimate. The same cannot be said for assumptions that are found to be incorrect at the end of a matter.

Or read the expanded version of these four "rules to live by" (p. 14):

  • "Project management is a tool box - choose only what you need to most effectively manage the project.
  • "Plan now or pay late.
  • "The simplest process is often the best.
  • "There should be no surprises - regular and effective communication is the key to successful project management."

That is not to say that I agree with 100% of the advice in the book. For example, when it comes to estimating time and costs, they include two formulas and an extended discussion of how to use "a numerical measure of confidence known as a 'certainty factor'" (p. 29). Their sample asset purchase transaction plan (p. 32) shows how they have used certainty factors to improve time estimates for such subtasks as term sheets and due diligence. In my experience, few lawyers would be interested in, or benefit from, this type of statistical refinement. I think these particular spreadsheets and forms violate their own advice that "the simplest process is often the best."

But my objections are just minor points.

Lawyers will love the specificity of the book's case studies. And the step by step examples will go a long way to helping them answer the most important question in legal project management: what should I do?

There's just one more thing you need to know about this 118-page book/CD package: it costs about $470 (£295). The Ark Group, in association with Managing Partner magazine has published a series of reports at this price point, including Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market by Pat Lamb, which I reviewed last year

If you don't have the budget to buy these two books for yourself, have your firm order them for the library.  Then make sure to read them as soon as they arrive.

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