The Spotlight Shines on Project Management

There’s a great post up on the ‘3 Geeks and a Law Blog’ that frames the current discussion regarding project managers, or, more specifically, the professional background of and what potentially makes a good project manager.

We’ve discussed this topic on Lawdable before and it’s a worthwhile, ongoing conversation within law firms and other legal service providers like Counsel On Call (although no one is like us, of course). One can very quickly dive into topics ranging from law schools and their e-discovery curriculums (or lack thereof) to whether the disciplines of project management can truly be absorbed by a practicing attorney, among a host of other sidebars.

Here’s what we’d like to tack onto the conversation: excellent project management is completely dependent on the individual project manager. If you look hard enough, there are lawyers out there who are great project managers, who understand how to budget and track metrics, who know how to design and implement proven protocols -- and who have been doing this for years. On the flip side, there are undoubtedly non-lawyers who can come into a project management role, add a lot of value, and do a better job than 95% of the lawyers who currently have project management responsibility. That’s not a knock on those lawyers, but a nod to those non-lawyers’ skills.

The training PMs receive and their personalities affect the people most likely to stay lawyers in the first place. The old adage that ‘I didn’t become a lawyer to do accounting’ is true. However, those who’ve been in law for awhile also see that there are different career development avenues to pursue and to help their clients. (And who’s to say PMs can’t make partner in the law firm of the future? Clients want to work with great PMs; that can mean more business from a PM’s clients.)

Circumstances, experiences and exposure can also help you develop the skills and expertise to push you in the direction of project management. In the same manner that lawyers involved in e-discovery today may not have started with technological understanding or had any initial training; those who have been thrust into the fire might have had an interest created, and then received the training and knowledge to accomplish and even master the topic. So, too, some of those thrust into project management may find that they like it, are good at it and want to pursue it to create the necessary expertise to become premier in the field.

We’ve found great lawyers who make great project managers, but we’re also in a more unique position than, say, a law firm, for instance. Our lawyers were looking for a different way to practice law and that’s why we’ve found one another; that departure from traditional thought also helps us identify those who could potentially make great project managers. And while MBA-types might run individual departments at a law firm, it’s usually a lawyer from within their own ranks who serves as a project manager on a specific case or matter. Some of those lawyers make great PMs, but many are so grounded in traditional lines of thinking that it’s difficult to break away and innovate; great project management requires a balance of innovation and proven protocols.

That’s a long way of saying there are different ways to approach this issue, and it’s going to be a focus as more people become attuned to it. In the end, it’s great for our profession.

The "Zubulake" of Legal Holds

The Judge of Zubulake fame (various decisions in 2004 and 2005 which became the handbook on e-discovery obligations and the precursor to the amended Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in December 2006), has written a lengthy opinion outlining the obligations of parties to issue a properly worded, written legal hold to employees who might be relevant to an anticipated litigation.

In late 2003, plaintiffs’ counsel was retained for a lawsuit, which was filed in February 2004. The case was stayed for a number of years and finally a document production was made in 2007. This was found to be deficient and having gaps in what should have been produced.

While the Judge did not grant defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, she did grant an adverse jury instruction, stating that plaintiffs were grossly negligent and that relevant ESI had been destroyed, which the jury may presume was favorable to the defendants. She also imposed monetary sanctions of reasonable costs, including attorneys fees for dealing with the declarations, added depositions and this motion.

So what was the evil done by plaintiffs in their preservation efforts?

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Q&A With Attorney Chris Cotton: Haiti Update

Chris in Jacmel with orphan Merci Dieu, which mean "good God" in Creole.We've been privileged to get to know Chris Cotton over the last couple of years as he's become an integral part of Counsel On Call's Nashville attorney team. His stories from his time spent in Haiti are well-known in our company, and his work with the Hands and Feet Project has been a source for inspriation for many of us (at right: Chris in Jacmel with orphan Merci Dieu, which mean "good God" in Creole).

So when the earthquake struck Haiti last Tuesday, Chris instantly became a source of news for our staff through his communications with people on the ground in Jacmel and put an even more personal face on the tragedy. Chris was interviewed as part of a local news story and the HAF project has been profiled on several national media outlets in the last few days, and the stories change with each passing hour. Chris was able to break away and chat with us for a few moments:

What are some of the latest updates?

It’s been a really tough, but great weekend… as of Sunday morning, no aid had reached Jacmel since the earthquake last Tuesday… 40,000 to 70,000 people were cut off from medical aid, food and water for five days. But yesterday the first private planes began landing at the Jacmel airport, which was great. I think five or six were able to land during the day and they expect 25 today (Jan. 18).

How big of an area is Jacmel?

Geographically it’s not that big of an area, and it’s about 25 to 30 miles south of Port-au-Prince, but it’s only accessible by one road, which was completely destroyed in the earthquake. Jacmel is a base for about 70,000 people and we know that there are at least 5,000 dead, 20,000 to 25,000 injured, and 75% of the buildings were destroyed. So that means there are at least 30,000 people with no shelter in the community, which is really just hard to get your head around. 

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Haiti Is On Our Minds

Like millions of others, we've been watching the developments in Haiti very closely and have been struck with the magnitude of the tragedy and the monumental job ahead -- in the coming hours, days, weeks, months and years.

It has been especially difficult for one of our Nashville attorneys, Chris Cotton, who helped build and open an orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti, in 2005-06, as part of the Hands and Feet Project. He has been communicating with friends in the area and the HAF website is posting updates from Jacmel; the stories are amazing, disheartening, tragic... the full range of emotions. Jacmel is completely cutoff from Port au Prince and other areas that could potentially provide supplies; the situation is truly dire.

We plan to post a Q&A with Chris on Monday, but in the meantime we'd like to pass along a link from CNN story on the HAF Project's orphanage. If you're in the Middle Tennessee area, Chris says to watch Ch. 4 (WSMV) at 6:30pm for a story they're doing on HAF and Haiti. In the meantime, we'll keep the people of Haiti and their families and friends in our thoughts and prayers.

What Are Your (Legal- and Business-Related) New Year's Resolutions?

OK, this is just a different (some might say lame) way of asking what your goals are in 2010… but ‘tis the season, eh?

There’s never been more at stake in the legal profession than there is now. There’s a palpable sense of change in the air… especially concerning the new legal model of law firms and the impact it will have on the way law is practiced and billed. But I’m not one to wait around for that to truly happen, so why not start moving forward? Here are just a few of the things attorneys have to tackle in 2010:

True cost containment of legal expenses … If you’re one of the thousands of in-house managers who has taken the reigns of your budget, designed new processes, brought more work in-house, cultivated new outside counsel relationships, and engaged alternative legal services providers… well, here’s hoping that you get more sleep in 2010, because you’ve likely been busier than ever. Those who’ve undertaken the commitment to cost containment should be applauded and hopefully the work they’ve done will make life easier down the road. This process will continue to evolve for these good people, and thousands more will start down this path anew in 2010. The point: This is the new way of life for corporate legal departments.

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