Prior articles have addressed using project management and effective communication to improve the efficiency, defensibility and cost-effectiveness of e-discovery projects. Legal project management (LPM) —a subcategory of project management—can be specifically tailored to meet the needs of e-discovery projects. However, LPM has added benefits beyond e-discovery. LPM and available LPM tools can help law firms better manage the entire litigation, not just e-discovery, with a corresponding reduction in cost through greater efficiencies.
Project management is generally defined as a process of planning, organizing, securing and managing resources to achieve specific goals. LPM takes these general concepts and applies them to the management of both litigation and non-litigation matters. While LPM is particularly suited for managing e-discovery, which often has a set of standard, repeatable and measurable practices, LPM has the added benefit of increased efficiency and cost reduction for legal matters as a whole through task management, case planning, scheduling, risk assessment and cost controls.
The basic goals behind LPM include creating a detailed, task-based plan that maps out the entire project and the key tasks that must be performed. The resulting “roadmap” can then be used to identify any potential issues or risks in order to set up suitable contingency plans.
Another goal is to create a common platform that allows the legal team and other relevant stakeholders to jointly communicate and collaborate on the project. This insures that the team and stakeholders are regularly updated on the project’s status, are aware of who is responsible for a particular task, and can collaborate on completing the necessary tasks in a timely fashion.
Finally, once LPM has been implemented in multiple projects, project data is available to identify the best practices that can be re-used in future projects. This helps establish a documented and defensible process for e-discovery, as well as a predictable delivery model for the entire project that can be communicated to the client.
There are a number of technology tools that assist LPM. These tools permit a top-down approach that starts with an identification of the business problem and any sub-issues that must be addressed. This includes typical e-discovery issues such as litigation holds, collection and review of relevant electronically stored information (ESI), searching and producing relevant ESI, and handling privilege issues. Once the problem and any sub-issues are identified, a task-based action plan can be developed for the entire team and relevant stakeholders. The plan can identify available resources and budget the hours and costs accordingly. Finally, these tools allow the team and relevant stakeholders to track project status, update the plan as needed and change the plan in response to any changes in circumstances that impact the project as a whole.
These technology tools are typically software-based. While these programs have different features and methods of implementing those features, they also have some common components. For example, many programs have a standard file structure giving authorized team members centralized access to key categories of documents (e.g., pleadings, correspondence, email, e-discovery, transcripts, etc.).
In addition, some form of project planning template is used that allows users to add projects and then track project status, including project milestones, project completion and time spent completing the project (or sub-projects). Other features can include meeting planning tools, case calendars, case blog entries, case wiki entries, Gantt charts, case schedules and budget tracking.
Additional features can merge these traditional project management features with features geared toward managing e-discovery, including document searching, document coding, predictive coding and organizing ESI produced by other parties. As one can see, there are numerous available features that can be tailored for a given project depending on the project’s needs and complexity.
A key aspect of LPM is flexibility. Although certain types of legal projects have common elements, legal projects are not always uniform to begin with and rarely remain static. Accordingly, any LPM plan and the technological support for that plan should allow for adaptations and changes when necessary. This will allow the team to quickly react to any changes in the scope of work, to communicate those changes to inside counsel and to develop a revised action plan. In turn, this information flow helps inside counsel manage their budgets and management’s expectations.
When properly implemented, LPM can have a positive impact on e-discovery costs by structuring the project in a way that maximizes organization, communication and efficiency between members of the team. However, as noted above, the benefits of LPM do not have to be restricted to e-discovery. The same concepts and tools can be applied to broader legal projects with similar benefits. Accordingly, both inside counsel and outside counsel should explore ways to use LPM to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of legal services.