I have an issue with the term “legal project management.” The more it gets used the more irritated I seem to get. Don’t get me wrong, I love project management. I use project management. I have spent considerable time and effort over the years to convince my bosses of the value of project management. I’ve tried to impart project management skills to all my staffs to benefit them and the firm in smaller projects too. I have had projects successful, in large part, because of the efforts of a dedicated project manager. I also know that law firms can benefit from professional project management in many areas.
I liken this labeling to the Batman TV show of the mid 1960s. For those of you who never had the pleasure of watching this gem, it was a hokey, campy show with Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin. As a kid, I never missed a show. When Commissioner Gordon called for help, they’d answer the Batphone, or see the Batsignal in the night sky. Then they would slide down the Batpoles, jump into the Batmobile (which could execute emergency Bat-turns with the pull of a special lever) and race off to Gotham’s police headquarters. They’d hear what the Commissioner had to say and then jump back in the Batmobile, race back to the Batcave and then start analyzing any clues to the crime using the Batcomputer. Sometimes they had need of the Batcopter or the Batboat. They had an arsenal of hundreds of crime fighting devices, ranging from Baterangs, to Oceanic Repellent Bat Sprays (the most famous of which is the Shark Repellent Bat Spray).
Do you sense a Bat-theme here? Yes, you could say that Batman was a bit obsessive and definitely had a labeling fetish. In addition to insisting that everything be prefixed with ‘Bat,” he literally labeled everything in the Batcave. But (and this might be heresy to some dedicated Batman fans) is there anything truly unique about the “Shark Repellent Bat Spray?” Besides the special labeling, the size of the can, specially designed to fit in the Batcopter, at it’s core, it was just plain old shark repellent. The same kind of shark repellent I am sure the Green Hornet and other super heroes carry around. The Batjet was cool, but the X-Men had the X-Jet, the Avengers had the Quinjets, and G-Force had the Phoenix. All were different color and shape, with different capabilities, but ultimately they were all hypersonic jets.
Let talk about what project management is. Wikipedia defines it as “the discipline of planning, organizing, securing and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives.” I have always found that good project managers adapts to the project at hand. The underpinnings and basic tenets of project management are 1) accomplishing a defined goal or set of goals; 2) working within a specific time line; and 3) working within a set of defined resources (most often personnel and cost). That can be applied to literally anything. No two projects are 100% identical. No two projects will utilize the exact same methodologies and approaches. But at the core, building a bird house, pharmaceutical drug creation, legal case management, space shuttle design, desktop image creation, and eDiscovery projects can all benefit from some level of project management.
I would argue there is nothing so unique to legal that it requires its own version of project management. Law firms certainly didn’t invent project management. It dates back to the 1950s and has its origins in civil construction and engineering. The concept and use of project management is not new to law firms either. Legal IT has used project management for large scale projects for decades. Project management in law firms slowly took on a broader array of significantly complex projects. I can’t recall right now which was first law firm to create an in-house office of Project Management, but as I recall it was a Canadian firm and it was an outgrowth of the firm’s IT structure. And as litigation (eDiscovery) projects grew larger and more complex, project management people and skills were used to better coordinate and oversee them. So now law firms are turning to project management to better and more efficiently oversee legal matters. I think this is great news! I’d even add - “About time!”
What I am not so keen on is the silly prefix label. Why do some organizations and people insist on labeling project management as “legal project management?” Is it because it can be packaged as “new and improved’ like some dish detergent? Is it because it makes it more appealing and thus easier to sell to lawyers? Is it because people can charge more for it? That’s all bull. To my knowledge lawyers and legal consultants haven’t added anything of significance to the time honored and venerable institution and processes of project management. Project management is absolutely great. I’m all for project management in law firms, corporate law departments and government legal agencies, but let’s call it what it is - project management.
Grab your can of “Legal Project Management Repellent Bat Spray” and repeat after me “There is no such thing as ‘legal project management’.”
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