In this series we’ll explore the growing interest in project management for legal professionals and discuss advantages and pitfalls learned from experience in the software industry.

At a recent legal tradeshow we attended, seemingly everyone was discussing one of two things: cloud computing and project management. If project management is no more than a buzzword to you, here’s the skinny: legal project management adds predictability, efficiency, accountability, and reduces errors for firms.

Project Management is widely practiced in manufacturing industries ranging from automobiles to adhesives to software creation. It’s purpose: to marshall a team of people towards the completion of a set of goals.

At a 50-thousand foot level, Project Management involves measuring progress, setting milestones, and expectation of deliverability. It gives management insight into the progress of an initiative and (hopefully) communicates to the people on the front lines clear steps and tasks required to move from Point A to Point B.

The legal industry is now taking a cold, hard look at project management for a number of reasons. The development of alternative fee engagements (AFEs) and diminishing margins are forcing law firms to take a more measured approach to their practices. By embracing techniques used by other industries and applying them to the progression of a matter, law firms will be able to:

  1. Compare the ROI of matters to determine the most profitable areas of practice.
  2. Reduce errors by introducing more structured communication, clearer expectations, and common goals.
  3. Allow for continual refinement and improvement of law firm practices.
  4. Gain insight into the firm’s top performers, as well as the folks who weigh others down.

The trick, with project management in the legal vertical, will be to learn from the mistakes of others.  I hope that legal doesn’t go through the same series of progressive experiments with project management that I witnessed in software development.

A million and one flavors of project management exists, each with their own practices, certifications, and consultants. In this series we’ll explore some of the options out there and highlight specific, prescriptive practices law firms, small and large, can embrace right away.