Notes On The New Year – 2014

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A young American follower of Shinryu Suzuki, the famed founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, was bewildered by the Master’s abstruse, fractured-English lectures. He finally asked Suzuki if he could summarize the essence of Zen Buddhism in a single paragraph. After pausing for thought, Suzuki smiled at his student.  “Everything changes,” he said.

Welcome to the Land of Change in 2014…and Beyond

Followers of this blog know that I have tended to focus on the continuing evolution of Legal Project Management (LPM), a discipline reshaping the face of legal service delivery. 2014 will see the continued acceleration of trends that are fundamentally changing how law firms and legal departments think about and implement LPM. First of all, because LPM has achieved baseline acceptance and entered the common vernacular, firms will talk less about whether to embrace LPM, but more about how to best embrace it. The pace of change will soon pass foot-draggers by.

New Game, New Players, New Equipment

Second, the two-party system – law firms and clients – is rapidly giving way to a matrixed service delivery environment that includes a bevy of new and specialized contributors, most notably legal process outsourcing (LPO) firms here and abroad. Clients and law firms are having new kinds of conversations centering around the question, “Will all the legal work be done in the firm?”  Increasingly, the answer will be no; savvy clients now are now partnering with a variety of vendors wherever their use can help manage or cut costs.  This requires law firms to get comfortable with collaborating with outside contributors and vendors they may not fully control (and obviously may not bill for, either). The impact on both planning and profitability is going to be significant, but there is little choice: we are well into a change or die era of legal service delivery.

Third, the rise of new types of service vendors is being paralleled by a dizzying array of new LPM-specific software, platforms, products, dashboards and tool, both to help introduce LPM and, where appropriate, to enable enormously sophisticated project planning and management capability. These products will take some time to shake out in a competitive marketplace, but already best practices are getting better and new LPM tools are vastly improved over prior generations.

Shift to “Vertical” Training

Fourth, LPM implementation and training are changing direction and content. Large-scale introductory-level “horizontal” LPM training programs are giving way to more “granular” skills-building workshops targeted to particular clients, client teams or even particular matters or engagements. This “vertical” approach to training will continue to trend toward deep dives, rather than skimming the surface. Learning optimal project planning, staffing, and workflow means that the line between legal project management (LPM) and legal process improvement (LPI) will blur, and the two disciplines will join at the hip.

The corollary to this trend is that not every lawyer, paralegal or other time-biller will (or should) receive LPM training, at least not initially. Right now, LPM implementation is best focused on those who need it the most (because of client demands for increased value) or want it the most.

In sum, by this time next year legal service delivery will have become less firm-driven, more client-driven, more collaborative and more complicated.  More players will contend for a piece of the pie, and more tasks are likely to be taken out of the hands of lawyers and assigned to innovative forms of service delivery as clients become still more vocal in their demands for value, efficiency and predictability.

Some Personal Notes

To align my own consulting work with these trends, in 2014 I will be shifting my practice away from large-scale LPM rollouts and training and toward providing substantive advice and counsel to particular practice groups, client teams and individual lawyers. If my clients are turning to deep dives, I intend to dive with them, advising both law firms and corporate clients on a constellation of LPM-related issues: law firm and vendor selection, alternative fee arrangements, effective management of specific engagements, and business development.

Finally, you also should note a change in our At the Intersection  heading, three small but important words, “With Doug Richardson.” Doug is a former large firm litigator and federal prosecutor, and for two decades he was an award-winning Dow Jones columnist. Regular readers of this blog have seen Doug’s wit and wisdom in numerous guest posts, and Doug and I collaborated effectively in our new ABA-sponsored book, Legal Project Management in an Hour for Lawyers.  As Edge International colleagues, we have designed and delivered numerous LPM programs worldwide, and he knows his LPM stuff, particularly insofar as communications and collaboration are concerned. Accordingly, I have asked Doug if he will contribute his perspective, insight and distinctive voice to At the Intersection on a regular basis.