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Legal Project Management Series: People

Created on February 9, 2018

E-Discovery Market Analyst at Exterro

In the first article of our series on legal project management (LPM), I looked at the fundamentals of LPM: a definition of the term, some key principles, and its increasing formalization over the past decade. It helped set up the terms of the conversation, so we could dig a little deeper into the topic over several posts. In this second article of the series, we’ll look at the people involved.

Prior to the advent of LPM as a discipline, lawyers, and in some cases paralegals, served as de facto project managers. This had some serious drawbacks, the most notable of which is that neither role requires project management skills or training. Certainly, lawyers can function very effectively as project managers, but their education does not include project management training, and their primary role remains in functions like setting case strategy, negotiating, and litigating. Any time spent managing projects will take away from those tasks. Although paralegals play a different role on a legal team, the same principle applies.

What is a legal project manager?

If you accept the basic premise that a legal project (whether a civil matter, finance, M&A, contract negotiations or disputes, etc.) is fundamentally a project, then a legal project manager fulfills the functions of any project management professional. Looking back to the first article in this series, which covered the basic principles of project management, these include:

  • Communicating with stakeholders and project team members
  • Defining project requirements and scope of work
  • Developing and tracking project schedule, budget, and responsibilities
  • Assessing and reporting on progress and adjusting timelines and budgets as needed

Who should be a legal project manager?

We’ve already covered the reasoning why lawyers and paralegals are not by definition project managers, so we won’t spend further time analyzing the pros and cons of that option. The two other options are professional project managers (trained at institutions like the Project Management Institute). Broadly speaking, the project management skills as taught by PMI can be applied to legal projects, bringing a new level of discipline, efficiency, and accountability to processes handled by non-professional project managers.

Another option is to embrace the growing field of legal project management. As attention increases on the legal department operations and more and more firms hire legal project managers, it seems that the LPM is here to stay as its own profession. Legal project managers do not have to be legal professionals before entering the field (although it can certainly help!). LPM experience, as opposed to general project management experience, grounds legal project managers in the terminology, processes, and culture of law firms and legal departments—all of which pay dividends in communicating with fellow team members; accurately scoping, budgeting, and scheduling work; and assessing progress and keeping projects on track.

The Girl’s Guide to Project Management does a good job of making the case for specialized legal project managers in this blog post, but to summarize, the skills of a good LPM will include:

  • Project management skills—the fundamental skills mentioned above
  • Communication skills—both legal-specific on the team and client-facing
  • Commercial skills—ensuring that legal matters are profitable for the firm/team
  • IT skills—with legal technology a booming industry, it’s critical to understand the tools of the trade
  • Flexibility—operating in a young field, changes may and will come fast
  • Strategic thinking—taking lessons learned from completed projects and improving both efficiency (the processes) and efficacy (the outcomes)

E-Discovery Project Management

It’s time to pick a project and look at the various members of the team involved. Since this is an e-discovery blog, we’ll look at an e-discovery project team. Who’s involved? What are their roles? The project manager can be a lawyer, paralegal, or IT professional with e-discovery experience. The members of the team and their basic roles will include:

  • In-House Counsel: Defines strategy; provides oversight; reviews collected data; with opposing counsel
  • IT/Compliance/Security: Implements data preservation and collection; maintains chain of custody.
  • Paralegal: Understands processes; manages projects.
  • Outside Counsel: Monitors matter status, reviews search results, refines search criteria; produces documents; revises privilege log.
  • Litigation Support: Performs administrative tasks; implements processes; reports to paralegals and counsel.
  • Opposing Counsel: Performs the same duties as outside counsel but for the opposing litigant; receives production and privilege logs.
  • Vendor: Ensure review platform options match review protocol; trains users on review platform.
  • Custodian: Acknowledges and implements legal hold; retains relevant documents; provides insight into matter in interviews.

If this quick peek into the personnel involved in e-discovery isn’t enough, check out a full look at the e-discovery process, broken down by roles and processes, in Exterro’s Comprehensive E-Discovery Workflow Guide.