Are lawyers good project managers? Some don’t think so and I’m afraid I probably agree!
I run workshops with senior associates on the subject and I usually start by asking the question ‘whose job is it to manage the matter?’ Some say the partner, some say it’s my job, others say it depends. Fair enough. But what is a little scary is that there is usually no absolute clarity.
What this means is that no one is clearly responsible for managing the work or coordinating the inputs of the specialists or those working in another office. No one is ensuring that the work is completed on time. No one is responsible for ensuring the work is done to the required quality standard. No one is responsible for ensuring the work is not exceeding the budget. Futhermore, the firm is not producing their services in a consistent way and I think this can affect how the firm is seen in the market.
In most cases of course great quality work is delivered, but it means that there are lots of risks of work needing to be re-worked and of aspects of the service falling between two stools. These potential failings can either lead to higher fees or lower margins depending on who pays for the inefficiencies. Frankly, if I was a client, I wouldn’t be happy to pay for any inefficiency and most clients agree with me.
To someone trained in the art of management consulting (where we all had to attend a 2 day project management training programme in Deloitte), this state of affairs seems a little haphazard and somewhat frightening.
When I talk to partners about this, they obviously argue their case and justify their approach well. Typical remarks about why they can’t use the project management approaches used by other professionals include:
‘Legal work is different – we are working in an adversarial situation. We don’t know what the other side will say or do.’
‘It’s difficult to itemise tasks – we don’t know what we’ll find doing the due diligence or during the discovery phase of litigation.’
I can see what they mean. Clearly lawyers can’t be expected to draw up a plan at the outset and stick to it, come what may. But the way I see it, it’s because of the added complexities or delivering legal service that better matter management is required. Without having somebody accountable for different aspects of delivering the service, firms risk inefficiencies and downright errors. And that frankly isn’t professional!
If we explore why lawyers don’t typically plan matters and encourage this accountability, I offer these thoughts and questions:
- Might lawyers actually get a perverse pleasure out of the stress of having their work somewhat ‘on the edge?’ It requires them to think on their feet – use their intellect – which they’re good at
- Many partners don’t like giving up control and delegating
- Many associates don’t ask for more accountability, preferring to work more ‘below the radar’ – I accept that it requires personal courage and confidence to approach partners and do this
- Matter managing is not the most intellectually interesting activity – indeed many find it boring
- Being a good matter manager doesn’t give you much recognition internally
What also doesn’t help is the ‘hours’ culture. If what gets you a bonus and gets you credit are lots of hours on your time-sheet (as well as having your jacket on your chair!), it’ll be hard to introduce a ‘matter managing’ culture.
Firms will do well to look at this area. Legal process should be professionally delivered and clients are increasingly requiring this to happen.
For more thoughts see: