Opportunity Missed?

There’s an article today in the ABA Journal regarding a survey of the 50 largest law firms in the U.S. and their use of outsourced legal services.

The only eye-popping numbers you’ll see in the survey results, however, are that 83% of the law firms surveyed declined to participate. The surveyors cite ethical and proprietary business concerns about law firms admitting the use of contract or outsourced attorneys, but in reality this is the fine line firms feel they must walk concerning their image. To be sure, Big Law has taken its lumps in the press during the last couple of years and they probably don’t see much that can be gained by participating in a survey like this.

But here’s what we’ve been hearing and seeing in meeting after meeting with hundreds of corporate legal departments in recent months: 1) they have demanded that their law firms outsource work like e-discovery, due diligence, contracts, patents and many other labor-intensive matters, or 2) they have partnered with law firms who have proactively brought outsourced solutions to them and ended relationships with law firms that haven’t been so forward-thinking.

It's also worth mentioning that we’ve also met and worked with a large number of top law firms in the last year, and call several of the AmLaw 100 some of our best clients -- and a handful have been with us for nearly a decade.

So while the survey results might not be that surprising, it does seem like an opportunity lost for firms who are constantly trying to gain market share and differentiate for their competition. Orrick, for one, has been very outspoken on their plans to utilize contract attorneys. While its “associate track” model is still in its early stages, it appears a promising – and differentiating – model that speaks not only to the needs of clients, but to the ever-changing needs of the attorney workforce.

At some point in the not-too-distant-future, none of this will be an issue... it will simply be part of the business that large chunks of legal work are outsourced (even though that’s the case already -- but shhhhh).
 

Legal Project Management: Fad or Focus?

Like alternative fee arrangements, Legal Project Management (LPM) has become somewhat of a new fad – or at least a very popular topic to discuss and write about. While it’s still unclear how much attention the broader legal landscape truly gives this discipline (although some are making a noticeable commitment to it), I’m of the opinion that LPM should be a key focus of the legal profession moving forward.

LPM is not only about getting things done cheaper and on time, it’s about using best practices and process to accomplish desired goals and budget predictability. To accomplish this, the project manager (PM) must have authority, as Paul C. Easton states in a recent blog post. It’s key, and not only with the attorney team, but with the different departments and personnel involved in any project. That level of responsibility requires experience and a track record – the ability to develop and oversee processes, meet benchmarks, stay on or below budget, and develop consistency -- and having done it many times over. Simply pushing the task down to the lowest possible billing rate, a practice Easton frowns upon in his post, is counter-productive in most instances.

While we commonly see its use in discovery-related matters today, LPM should be the focus of any-size project requiring coordination of more than one person and there have been many successful PM-led initiatives in other areas of the law. It doesn’t matter the area of law, really, because budgets, organization, timelines, process, quality standards, and repeatability are universally necessary considerations. Each is part of the LPM role, and each can be improved dramatically with a great PM. A PM who understands a client’s bigger picture is even more valuable and can help bring core disciplines from one department to another, building on previously successful practices (e.g. e-discovery to due diligence or employment work).

However, without authority – or at least a seat at the decision-making table -- the PM’s power to generate results is effectively non-existent. Spinning wheels, waiting for sign-off by the higher-ups on everything, direction that differs from previously successful results, and choices that are subject to constant overturning… this breeds confusion, stagnation, indecision, and ultimately higher costs.

If you go the route of project management, don’t go halfway. Make a commitment and give it the resources (and power) it needs to be successful.