Before we sing the final Auld Lang Syne to 2012, we must insist on one last year-end wrap-up: a list of the reasons that otherwise rational lawyers trot out for resisting and denying reality, in this case reality being their clients’ escalating demands for greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the delivery of legal services.

Change Compels Change

The burgeoning trend toward Legal Project Management (LPM) did not simply materialize spontaneously out of the ether. This rapidly-maturing discipline is the proximate consequence of the enormous pressures in-house legal leaders now face to trim budgets, choke back rampant costs and long-entrenched inefficiencies, and, particularly, keep a tight leash on outside legal spend.

Ostrich Voices

Many lawyers and law firms clearly have seen where law’s future is taking us and have commenced implementation of methods and systems to improve their efficiency, matter managements, collaboration and communication. Yet scores of others still haven’t gotten the memo – or refuse even to open the LPM email. Here are the top 5 reasons lawyers gave in 2012 for trying to sidestep the tides of client-driven change, uttered with varying degrees of complacency, defiance, dismissiveness or hostility,

  1. My clients don’t want or need LPM. This is the biggest myth, the most vivid exemplar of flat-out head-in-the-sand thinking. We find this canard advanced by a lot of lawyers who expend little time or effort asking their clients what they really want or need. Perhaps a few antediluvian clients are indeed content to let their lawyers operate with no controls and bill them silly, but in our formal and informal surveys, clients of all kinds and sizes almost universally described intense and increasing cost-control pressures. While all clients may not understand LPM nomenclature, they all want what LPM delivers: better project scoping, better planning and budgeting, better communication and collaboration, and tighter monitoring and control of budgets and costs. Why else would we be seeing such a dramatic increase in RFPs, demands for hard budgets, and serious movement towards more cost-effective alternative fee arrangements?
  1. If we are efficient, we won’t make as much money. (And the corollary: if we are efficient, we won’t be able to meet our annual hours requirement.) This is the essence both of wrong-headed and nearsighted thinking.  Clients do notice which lawyers are careful stewards of their money and which ones deliver great services and great value. They also notice the lawyers who dawdle, churn, reinvent the wheel, communicate poorly, and manage matters indifferently. Clients notice this just like partners notice which associates are efficient and manage assignments well. Efficient lawyers are sought after; inefficient lawyers face tough sledding in 2013 and beyond..
  1. I’ve practiced the way I do for decades, and I’m not going to change now. This attitude, most frequently expressed by senior lawyers, is not merely an expression of resistance to change. It reflects the belief that the best way to organize any legal engagement is to have one all-knowing, all-controlling lawyer at the hub of the wheel, with various other contributors arrayed around the rim of the wheel, often bathed in relative darkness and varying degrees of ignorance about the overall purposes, scope and phases of the engagement. This increasingly obsolete perspective ignores the inevitable collaboration needed by firms that have expanded exponentially, dispersed geographically, and have engagements  involving ever more cross-office participation. The fact that the Single Leader Approach no longer works – and that it does nothing to effectively disseminate accumulated knowledge — is not keeping lawyers threatened by change from insisting that it remains the one true service delivery path. Because LPM is, essentially, a collaborative service model it is no wonder the old guard resents it.
  1. All my matters are unique, and LPM imposes a bunch of lockstep protocols that will standardize all legal work and devalue my legal judgment. As a friend once said of a prestigious Ivy-league college, “their problem is that they teach their students that everything they think is important.” So too with lawyers, who are trained to see each matter as a novel challenge and to believe that their wisdom and judgment are unique individual gifts. The Old Guard also has been trained on-the-job to bill every matter to the hilt as they search beneath each stone and explore every conceivable legal nuance. The astronomical growth of Legal Process Outsourcing and other alternative legal delivery vehicles clearly demonstrates that in fact law is a lot more commoditized than most law firm lawyers prefer to think.  Yes, bet-the-company matters require extraordinary lawyering. But frankly, a huge percentage of legal work…doesn’t.
  1. LPM is all about monitoring and metrics, and my mamma didn’t raise me to be a math major.  Also, LPM will impose a whole new learning curve and add a ton of additional work to my already overburdened schedule.  This opinion may derive from incorrectly analogizing LPM with such other forms of industrial project management as Critical Path Analysis, Six Sigma, Lean, Agile or Kaizen.  These systems, designed to produce identical widgets with minimal variation, can indeed be highly complex and quantitatively driven. But law is not about clean room manufacturing protocols; it’s about the nuanced affairs and interactions of human beings. Fear not: lawyers will continue to be indispensable. LPM, while it may make productive use of templates and technologies, is fundamentally a matter of common sense and collaborative communication, consistently applied. It sharpens up legal processes, not legal content.

Time to Bite the Bullet

LPM does indeed have its own nomenclature, process models, templates and applied technologies, so LPM mastery does impose a fresh learning curve. So did the computer, legal search engines, automated databases and smartphones. Given a will to learn, it really does not take long for LPM to move from first-impression to second nature – and besides, it is now being taught in law schools as a legal service delivery baseline. Those who have mastered LPM and learned to navigate their firms’ increasingly elegant LPM dashboards and budget-management tools tell us that LPM now eases their burdens rather than increasing them. And, more important, clients say they notice that the lawyering actually improves.

The olde order changeth, so welcome to 2013, y’all – the playing field for those first-adopters who will stay ahead of the pack, those first-followers who are seeing the light and racing to catch up, and those who continue to leave the candle unlit and curse the darkness.