Project management is inexpensive to implement, lowers internal costs,
increases margins and can be very effective at building client relationships
and firm loyalties. So why aren’t law firms everywhere embracing it?
BY SANDRA RUBIN
THERE’S A FUNNY dynamic that comes into play when talking to lawyers at firms about project management. It’s a subject that’s all the rage. The firms? They really want to talk about it because their clients are talking about it. Clients love it, in fact. But drill down a bit with
individual lawyers and you sometimes get the sense they are
still figuring out how to best apply it. We hit that point in the
conversation with Daniela Bassan. She and another lawyer
at Stewart McKelvey have signed up to become certified
legal project managers.
Project management involves breaking a matter down
into tasks and timelines, and assigning company resources
for each step. Clients are given budget estimates and are kept
informed of progress in real time. Bassan, for her part, is
taking a six-month distance-learning program that involves
reading assigned texts, doing case studies and analyses, and
even writing essays.
When asked about the types of things she’s studying –
whether it’s business-school stuff – she’s prepared to say
there are five classic steps to project management: initiation,
planning, execution, controlling or monitoring, and closing.
Beyond that, the actual course content is proprietary, in
her view. Fair enough — Bassan is an intellectual property
But she’s also a member of the StewartMcKelvey
partnership board. How will the new system work? With
two project managers for more than 220 lawyers, will the
firm automatically stream all new matters past one of its
certified managers, or will they be asked to develop plans
automatically for certain types of matters? Or will the
project managers be pulled in only when clients ask for the
“I can’t tell you exactly how we’d apply the information
learned from the certification. But the idea would be, very
generally, to gain as many benefits as possible from it,” she
says carefully before segueing back to the five steps and on
to the generic benefits of project management.
Pressed on whether the partnership board has discussed
how it will be implemented, she says, “We have lots of
strategic planning built around project management,”
before saying she needs more detail about the question. Her
answer arrives in written form, which does go into some
specifics, but more on that in a minute.
Bassan and others are careful in expressing their nascent
approaches to project management, a discipline associated
more closely with engineering and high-tech companies
than with law firms.
Business people would say it’s a strange caution. Clients
fighting back against what many see as runaway legal costs
have been vocal about demanding their law firms unshackle
them from the open-ended hourly rate. They want budgets
Project management is cheap to implement. It lowers
internal costs, increases margins and can be very effective
at building client relationships and firm loyalties. So, with