Paralegals Are Project Managers Too!

Paralegals are definitely project managers. Whether you’re traveling a long distance, going on a short road trip, or just heading out to buy dinner, the most important piece of information you need is where you’re going, right? To figure out how you are going to get somewhere, you must know your destination. While this is more difficult as we traverse our goals in life, when it comes to success in e-discovery and the world of legal and litigation support this analysis is much easier.

Managing a project is like managing a case

Every case and each part of a case can and should be viewed as a project. A project is a temporary, non-routine endeavor limited by scope, time, and cost that creates a unique product, service, or result. Projects have a start and an end and they are unique. Paralegals are drafting a motion, performing research, working on discovery, or a trial –all of these are projects or sub-projects of a larger case. Project management principles will help get the work done more effectively and more efficiently.

Who’s a project manager?

Project management, defined, is the structured application of skill, knowledge, tools and techniques to organize project activities and efficiently bring about a desired outcome. Paralegals do this day in and day out as they apply their skills to casework at law firms and corporations around the world.

Paralegals and legal assistants are as much project managers as any attorney leading a case. A project manager is the person possessing the applicable skills, knowledge, and talent who is assigned by an organization and responsible for overseeing and actively managing, among other things, the scope, time, and cost of a project to achieve project objectives. A project manager, like paralegals, must manage the interests and expectations of stakeholders and ensure that the project is completed at scope, on time and within budget. Along the way, they also measure and manage risk, ensure the quality of deliverables, and manage the personnel and other resources associated with a project.

If this doesn’t describe the role of paralegals working on a case, then it’s not clear what does. From the time their phone rings and they receive a new case assignment, paralegals are helping to manage and organize as the case moves through the stages of the litigation spectrum. Drafting, filing, organizing, researching, managing documents or discovery, cite checking – each of these are projects that require specialized skills, have dependencies, and must be performed efficiently. Without a doubt each of these tasks have time constraints and cost limitations. So, lest there remain any doubt—paralegals are project managers.

What does Done look like?

But confusion remains regarding exactly how project management principles integrate with legal work. Perhaps the most important question a project manager can ask when he or she leads a project is “What does done look like?” That question, as simple as it seems, together with the answer, should resonate throughout the project. Otherwise, the scope of the project lacks definition, and when a project lacks proper scope definition the outcome will likely not be successful. When you take on a new case or assignment, it’s important to gather all the information, requirements, and parameters. Remember, successful projects have a vision, a purpose, and a goal, and they have time and cost constraints.

But scope management is just one aspect of project management. There are several components to project management that should be understood, starting with an understanding of the project lifecycle.

The Project Management Lifecycle

Projects have a life; they have a beginning and an end. The project lifecycle begins with the five pillars of traditional project management, called Process Groups. Process simply refers to the discreet steps, actions, or operations one takes to achieve project objectives, the tools used, and an understanding of what each part of a project will look like as well as the final result. Process is identifying the inputs, tools and techniques, and the outputs required to produce results.

The Five Project Management Process Groups

To begin a project, it makes sense to have an orderly framework. The project management process groups provide that framework:

Paralegals Project Management Processes

At each stage of a project, the project team should consider the following:

  • Initiating: Should we take on this project? What are the alternatives? Should we make it or buy it? Do we have necessary agreements in place?
  • Planning: What does done look like? What is and what is not included? What resources do we need? Who will lead the project? How much is it going to cost? How long will it take? What risks are involved? How will quality be maintained?
  • Executing: Project work begins and deliverables are prepared.
  • Monitoring & Controlling: Are we on time? On budget? Are we maintaining quality? How are we monitoring changes?
  • Closing: Document what was done, record metrics and perform post-project review.

The Project Management Knowledge Areas

The lifecycle does not end here. Within each process group are specific areas of responsibility that a project manager focuses on throughout a project. Known as the Knowledge Areas, these are the core elements in each of the five process groups that a project manager must manage:

  • Integration management
  • Scope management
  • Time management
  • Cost management
  • Quality management
  • Human resource management
  • Communication management
  • Risk management
  • Procurement management
  • Stakeholder management

The Knowledge Areas help to structure, categorize, and navigate the order of project work. They must be consistently integrated, managed, and monitored across the five process groups during a project.

Together, the five process groups and ten knowledge areas provide a consistent framework for project work. This framework has been time-tested and it works.

The Ins and Outs of PM

Within the framework, a project manager is responsible for the Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs in each knowledge area. The project manager first gathers information and identifies the requirements of the project (Inputs). Second, decisions are made about the equipment, methodologies, and resources necessary to achieve project success (Tools & Techniques). And third, the completed tasks and activities become deliverables and, ultimately, the final product, service or result (Outputs).

To illustrate the point, an example is helpful.

Tasked with collecting electronically stored information (ESI) from a client for discovery, what Inputs are needed before beginning the project? What information is necessary to enable the collection project to move forward? In the very least you need the location, the names of custodians, and the sources from which you will collect the ESI.

Next consider the Tools & Techniques. Is there a particular collection methodology suitable to the case? What tools are required? Are there written protocols or best practices for performing a collection? Here you need to know if you’re going to forensically collect the ESI or use other less formal procedures. Ideally, you’re going to use a trained technician who employs software or hardware that write-protects the ESI to prevent it from being altered.

And finally, what is the Output? Obviously, one output is the collected ESI. But how is it maintained? What form is it in post-collection? Are there any other requirements or documentation that is required at the conclusion of an ESI collection? The expectation when collecting ESI is that it will be in native form and all the metadata will be intact. Additionally, you are going to want a collection log and, because the ESI is potentially evidence, you will need to prepare a chain of custody form showing who handled the ESI.

This is but one example of the how the traditional project management methodology works. The project management framework above and the process of moving from inputs to tools to outputs are a proven methodology. That’s why the more than 745,000 project managers across the globe in nearly every industry, including the legal business, use this methodology to achieve effective results. That’s why paralegals should adopt these processes as well.

Conclusion

I began my career as a paralegal and made the move into legal technology, litigation support and e-discovery. Through hard work I built a reputation for getting things done, for educating and training attorneys and paralegals, and for managing people and successful projects. I have managed some of the largest class action securities litigations ever filed. At some point, it occurred to me that there is a better way and so I began to look at the principles of project management and their applicability to case work in the legal industry. Doing so has served me well over the past two decades. My point here is simple: paralegals and legal assistants, like anyone working in any industry, are project managers too. They perform important project-oriented work that can only improve with the use of project management principles.

About the Author

Michael Quartararo is the Director of Litigation Support Services at New York-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and the author of Project Management in Electronic Discovery (June 2016), which may be ordered from: http://www.ediscoverypm.com. He is a certified project management professional (PMP) and a certified e-discovery specialist (CEDS). Mike also teaches, serves as a subject matter expert, and sits on the advisory board of the paralegal program at Bryan University in Tempe, Arizona. He frequently writes and speaks on topics relating to e-discovery, project management, and litigation/practice support.

(A version of this article originally appears in the July/August 2017 edition of NALA’s Facts & Findings digital magazine, which may be accessed here)

Time Management Does Not Work

Time ManagementAs part of a training series within his organization, a good friend recently asked me to speak to up-and-coming leaders about time management. I begin to research the issue and I keep coming across materials suggesting that teaching time management is a waste of time. The fact is –and I guess I already knew this and my research merely confirms it– that teaching time management really doesn’t work.

Some may think it peculiar that the first thing a speaker on time management says is “time management doesn’t work.” Stay with me. By the end of this, you’ll realize that time management is not the problem at all. No, the fact is that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to getting things done. And time is not the problem. Time doesn’t care–it is going to keep moving no matter what we do. Time does not stop.

A Constant State of Reaction

Anyone who cares at all about their work rises each day and, at some point, considers what their day looks like. Then they get to work, their Inbox is blowing up, the phone is ringing, and their manager is standing in the door wondering how some project did a face-plant. The plan for the day is up-ended. The tension builds as time starts slipping away and planned tasks are slowly pushed back into the day, even to the next day.

As a result, we are in a constant state of perpetual reaction, jumping from project to project, task to task, and none of them are done particularly well. Everyone knows how this plays out.

This is no way to work; no way to make a living. We’re supposed to like our job, enjoy it, and have fun. It’s not possible when there’s nagging pressure to perform and stress. Under these circumstances, mistakes are made and we compromise quality. In addition, the stress leads to unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment on the job, and eventually, to burn-out.

The good news is there are a few things you can do to remedy the problem. Think of it like going to the doctor when you have the flu – there’s no cure for the flu; they simply treat the symptoms.

Today, we treat the symptoms of poor time management.

Symptom #1 – Lack of Clarity on Your Role

First, clearly understand exactly what your role is. If you don’t fully understand what your organization expects, you cannot perform. It’s like a road trip without a destination and no map. Read and understand your job description. Even on specific projects, if your responsibilities are not clear, lay it out for stakeholders.

Second, set expectations.  Let people know what you can and cannot do, and empower others to make use of alternative resources. If something is not within your role, delegate or ask for help.

Third, don’t try to take on everything. Learn to say “no.” This is tricky. When you work in a service industry, saying no is antithetical to providing good service. Do it with tact. Don’t just say “No” and walk away. Tell them “I need to get back to you on that” and figure out how to make it work. Remember, we’re all problem solvers.

Symptom #2 – Failure to Prioritize

As part of the clarity you need to do your job, management should be emphasizing what is important to the organization. With guidance from leadership you can then effectively prioritize things.

Prioritizing is not making a list of things to do; it’s making a list of IMPORTANT things to do. Each day take the first 10 minutes to schedule your day. Ten minutes of planning will save you an hour in execution—that’s what they teach in project management school. If it’s important, schedule it on your calendar. If it takes more than 30 minutes, schedule it. Use your calendar to block out time to complete the important things. In the end, it’s all about discipline. Have the discipline to set a schedule and stick to it.

A word of caution: do not underestimate how quickly you can get something done. We all do it. We think something will take 20 minutes, so it doesn’t get on the calendar. When we get to it, 20 minutes becomes 45 minutes to an hour, and now scheduled tasks are out of whack. Double the of time it will take to complete something and schedule it. Worst case, you finish early and grab a coffee.

The point is, when employees understand the most important aspects of their jobs, it’s easier to prioritize. Identifying and staying focused on the company mission and how you serve it highlights the important objectives. If your organization is not revealing what’s important, ask those questions.

Symptom #3 – Inability to Manage Distractions

Information inundates us all day long. Email, texts, social media, phone calls. We encounter distractions all day long. Consider the biggest distraction: multitasking. The research shows that while multitasking makes us seem more productive, the empirical evidence shows otherwise. Multitasking suggests you are perpetually reactive. When you multitask, you are playing defense; juggling a bunch of balls at once. Eventually, you will add one too many and drop them all. Quality work is not done this way.

The notion of attention management teaches how to control distractions. It trades single-tasking for multitasking, producing higher-quality results, and encouraging sustained, focused attention on singular tasks. A work environment focusing on and valuing single-tasking is healthier and prevents bad habits from taking root in the first place.

Next, consider email management. Email and social media sites are huge distractions. They are also a tremendous time-suck. Notifications all day disrupt our train of thought. Turn off the notifications on your computer and your phone. If social media and email are that important, schedule them into your day.

Email also ruins conversations. Have you ever been talking to someone who repeatedly looks at their computer screen or at their phone. It’s not only rude, it reflects poor listening skills and eats up time. If you’re talking face to face, give the person your undivided attention. That’s what good leaders do.

A few other email management tips: First, organize email so that you are able to quickly find messages in your Inbox. Create folders according to how your organization manages business records. There is no reason not to organize important communications, regardless of the work that you do or the industry in which you work.

Second, if email is a constant distraction, choose times throughout the day to read and respond to email. Otherwise, close your email. You don’t come in every day and open Word or Excel in anticipation of working in those applications, why do it for email?

And finally, unclutter the rest of your life as well. Do you have papers, folders, notes, case files, everywhere in your office? Clutter and general disorganization are a distraction. Get organized, file things and store things where they need to be. “Everything in its place and a place for everything,” my grandma always said.

SYMPTOM #4 – Lack of Workflow

Most employees manage their workload in their head. But one can only truly manage what they see, and you cannot see inside people’s heads. To manage something it must be tangible, centralized, actionable, and trackable. Workflow management skills are not taught in school and, as a result, workers are often left to their own devices with mixed results. This leaves productivity to chance.

Few individuals will come up with an effective workflow solution on their own; it’s easier to form habits. Identify the most productive people in your organization and review with them what they are doing to succeed. You may be surprised by some responses; but turn them into a workflow. Sure, there will be outliers who defy conventional work practices, but we are trying to improve the workflow of the masses, not the unicorns.

Complex work requires a methodology that enables people to be intentional, proactive, and thorough. The basis of a useful workflow management methodology is the ability to make tasks and responsibilities easy to organize, track, and act upon. A workflow methodology allows individuals to regain control, feel less scattered, and experience less stress. In addition to individual productivity benefits, when staff use workflow management, it offers other benefits to the organization, such as resource allocation, documented experience, and the ability to project, budget and track productivity.

CONCLUSION

As can be seen, the symptoms of poor time management are overcome by being proactive in all that you do. The cure is to start by:

  • Planning your day
  • Setting expectations
  • Scheduling activities
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Adopting a sound workflow

Each of these proactive steps can treat the time management woes that ail you. They will help identify the important things, increase focus and attention to detail, and yes, even improve time management.

________________________

Michael Quartararo is the firm-wide Director of Litigation Support Services at New York-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and the author of the 2016 book Project Management in Electronic Discovery, published by eDiscoveryPM.com, LLC. He is a graduate of the State University of New York and he studied law in the UK. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS). Mike frequently speaks and writes on topics related to project management, e-discovery and legal support services.

The Truth Matters in E-Discovery

Lady justice, blind and weighing the truthThe truth definitely matters. We’ve all read horror stories from the criminal courts. Unqualified experts, bad identification evidence, perjured testimony, tainted DNA, corrupt cops, less than candid prosecutors–all these things lead to unreliable outcomes in the mostly analog world of criminal jurisprudence. It’s no different in civil litigation when it comes to the use of electronic evidence. Information that companies possess and control can be manipulated, altered, corrupted, or deleted—inadvertently or deliberately. In most instances, there’s nothing nefarious going on, but occasionally parties and lawyers are sanctioned for wrongdoing in civil litigation as well.

Regardless of the forum, the expectation is that the information put before judicial factfinders, hearing officers, and others, is complete and accurate. One would like to think that good, accurate information leads to the “truth and justice” in our system of jurisprudence. Because, at the end of the day, the truth matters in both civil and criminal cases and fact-finders simply cannot get to the truth if the information presented is bad.

Information is Everywhere

But the fact is that the pursuit of truth is more complex today because we live in a world in which almost everyone is surrounded by vast amounts of electronically stored information (ESI). The Radicati Group estimates that the business world accounts for more than 108 billion emails sent and received per day. They estimate that number will to grow to 140 billion by 2018.[1]

And there is more information created in the world in the last few years than exists throughout all of humankind in the thousands of years prior. Ubiquitous computer devices transmit and store information. Our locations, up-to-the-minute news, sound bites, email, texts, and social media feeds, not to mention “Alexa,” new doorbells, and smartphone-controlled appliances. All this information may play a role in the truth-seeking process. It can help litigants to investigate events and tell their stories in court.

Information is now everywhere and nearly everything we do today is dependent upon electronic devices that store information. These machines are integral to daily life and they supplement the shortages of mere mortal memories. Indeed, computers now perform some functions that previously only humans performed. And computers are now smarter with technologies like Watson’s augmented intelligence and machine learning.

Still, there is work to be done.

The E-Discovery Market

In the United States, which is 80% of the global market, electronic discovery is a growing and thriving field. The market worth of the global e-discovery industry doubled since 2010 and the projection is it will quadruple by 2020. Driven by the massive increase of ESI and the need to manage that information for civil litigation, the market, including services and software, grew to over $7 billion in 2015.[2] One report projects 16% compound annual growth rate for services and software through 2022, increasing the market to more than $20 billion.[3] A Gartner report similarly projects double-digit year-over-year growth in e-discovery software.[4]

At the same time, due to the recession and slow economic recovery, the legal services industry is undergoing considerable change. Consider that law firms are folding and merging or reducing personnel to stay afloat. Corporate legal departments face pressure to reduce legal expenses. One need not have an MBA or a law degree to conclude that the current business model at many firms may not be sustainable in the long term. To survive, lawyers and legal support staff need to change the way they practice and deliver legal services.

By far, the most costly and time consuming aspect of litigation is the discovery process. The Rand Corporation reports that 75% of expenditures in litigation are attributable to discovery costs.[5] It used to be that junior lawyers would sit in rooms filled with boxes to review documents. Discovery is no longer about boxes of paper; instead, it is about terabytes of data. And discovery costs are higher not because of inflation or because attorney hourly rates have risen. In fact, e-discovery costs are considerably lower today than 15 years ago. No, discovery is more expensive now because there is so much more information and the higher volume of ESI drives that cost.Truth and justice at the Supreme Court The tsunami of information that has washed over the practices of the world’s largest organizations is not receding.

The Federal civil rules, adopted in 1934 and infrequently revised since then, have been amended twice since 2006 specifically to address ESI. The number of reported cases relating to e-discovery has skyrocketed recently and continues to grow. There are now e-discovery professional organizations and a multi-billion dollar e-discovery software and service provider industry capitalizing on the changes in legal practice and the deluge of ESI. Recruiters and headhunters now specialize in placing project managers, technical analysts, e-discovery specialists, and yes, e-discovery attorneys.

Going from Good to Great

So, the question becomes how to distinguish between organizations that are managing e-discovery projects well and those who are not. The solution, I propose, lies in identifying those organizations that have a consistently structured process for managing e-discovery more effectively and efficiently. I’m talking, of course, about organizations that apply project management principles to discovery projects.

There has been considerable discussion regarding the applicability of project management in a legal setting. Driving the debate is the need of law firms and corporate legal departments to find efficiencies and reduce legal expenses. Law firms, which rely upon corporations for a slice of the $300 billion legal services market, have begun to listen. Firms are adjusting rates, staffing leanly, or entering unique and tailored billing agreements. Few firms, however, are dramatically changing the ways in which lawyers work. And fewer still have adopted project management principles into their business model.

Applying project management methodologies to e-discovery projects is one tool that will differentiate great firms from good firms. And it will provide the efficiency and sustainability needed in a legal market that is very different today.

Bringing Order to Chaos

Project management brings structure and common business sense to law firms, which traditionally do not operate like a business. To the majority of people in the world –even the legal business—the words “electronic discovery” have little or no meaning. But “project management” is intuitive and people understand it to mean leading people, marshaling resources, and managing processes that lead to a desired outcome.

Most people have an inherent if not instinctive desire to be organized and efficient. It is why we categorize almost everything; it is frankly how the human mind works. Some people do it better than others, for sure. But in the end, we all want to get from point A to point B by the most direct route. And this means completing a task in the most efficient manner possible.

The use of planning, budgeting, and scheduling techniques, if executed correctly, can only enhance the discovery process. Ultimately, this aids the delivery of professional legal services. Monitoring and controlling e-discovery processes are critical as well. To maintain quality and effectively manage changes in scope, timing or cost, it is necessary to monitor each phase of an e-discovery project. And closing a discovery project is equally important. Performing a post-project review, archiving project documentation, and recording important metrics serve to prove a defensible process. They also provide much needed information for estimating The gavel of wtruth and justicefuture analogous projects.

The use of project management in electronic discovery can end the self-inflicted wound the legal industry imposed upon itself. Just like the record industry missed the boat on digital content, much of the legal industry missed the e-discovery boat. In many cases, it sailed right by.

Project management simply brings order to the chaos and puts the focus on sound, defensible processes. With project management, parties to litigation have reasonable assurance that managing their ESI is consistent with winning strategies. And this can help parties present their case in court. Quite apart from the cost, if missteps occur in the process it may be difficult to present good, accurate and complete information to the fact-finder. Following a consistent, structured process can only enhance a litigant’s chance of success.

Conclusion

Discovery of the truth is a foundational principle of our civil and criminal justice systems. When courts render judgment in a legal proceeding we want to believe that the truth has enlightened the path to justice. The judicial truth-seeking process, however, is only as good as the information presented as evidence. If you present unreliable information, the truth is compromised. It has now become clear that using project management principles can and will serve law firms and their clients well. An added bonus is the improvement of the truth-seeking process.


[1] The Radicati Group, Email Statistics Report 2014-2018.

[2] E-Discovery Market by Solution, Service, Deployment, Industry, & Region—Global Forecast to 2020 (Research and Markets, July 2015). http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/zhg5cn/ediscovery  (global e-discovery software and services market expected to grow from $7.01 billion in 2015 to $14.2 billion in 2020—CAGR of 15.3%).

[3] eDiscovery Market–Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2014-2022 (Transparency Market Research, 2015), http://www.transparencymarketresearch.com/ediscovery-market.html.

[4] , Zhang & Landers, Magic Quadrant for E-Discovery Software, Market Overview (Gartner, 2015), http://www.gartner.com/technology/reprints.do?id=1-2G57ESF&ct=150519&st=sb (e-discovery software market grew to $1.8 billion in 2014 and estimating five year CAGR of 12% with growth to more than $3 billion by 2019).

[5] Where the Money Goes: Understanding Litigant Expenditures for Producing Electronic Discovery (Rand Corporation, Institute for Civil Justice 2014).


Michael Quartararo is the firm-wide Director of Litigation Support Services at New York-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and the author of the book Project Management in Electronic Discovery, published in June 2016 by eDiscoveryPM.com, LLC. He is a graduate of the State University of New York and he studied law in the UK. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS). This article is adapted from content first published in Project Management in Electronic Discovery.

Project Management: Holiday Edition

A project management christmas treeThis may come as a surprise to some, but if you think about it we apply project management to many of the things we do during the holiday season. Shopping for gifts involves initiating, planning, execution and closing. First, we consider how much money we’ve got to spend on gifts. Then we make a list (even if it’s just a mental list). During execution we run from store to store to find and buy the gifts. And finally, we close the project by wrapping them up nice and neat. Heck, we even get a little post-project review and feedback when folks open the gifts.

Decorating? Same deal. We plan where the tree will go and then systematically apply lights, garland, ornaments, etc. Dependencies are important here. You cannot, for instance, put the ornaments on and then the lights. And anyone lighting a menorah knows that there’s an order and timing to the lighting of the candles and certain rituals that take place each day.

And of course anyone who grew up in an Italian-American home like mine knows that the holidays mean massive amounts of food at various family gatherings. Well, guess what? Mothers and grandmothers all over the world are using project management to put these culinary festivities together. Consider that all sorts of planning goes into a holiday meal. Where will it be? Who’s coming? How many people? Which china to use? What will the courses be? There might even be a budget. In homes that were fortunate enough, there’s pasta, fish, meat, side dishes, salads, dessert. Fuhgetaboutit. You leave one of these meals wondering if you should visit a cardiologist or just swear off food for six months.

An Italian Christmas Dinner Table - Montreal Times

Whoever plans and then prepares the food most certainly puts a lot of thought into it. In most –I would think nearly all– families there may even be a whole team of people involved.

And then there’s execution. There’s most surely a shopping list. But think about the preparation. It might start a day or two before when vegetables are cut, things are pre-cooked or baked. And talk about dependencies. I mean, it’s necessary to prepare and cook all these things and bring the food to the table in the right order, at the right time, and at the right temperature. Meal planning and execution can be quite an undertaking if you think about it.

Uh, hello? What about quality control. Well, you can bet that all along the way that food is being tasted and snatched from serving dishes perched on the stove top while “Get out of the kitchen” is murmured with a variety of undertones by the cook.

Finally, you herd the cats into the dining room. The deliverables are on the table. Everyone eats, drinks, and is merry. You get instant feedback on this – no need for a post-project review. If yours is anything like mine, the entire family begins expressing right away how they feel about the food.

What about closing? That’s dessert.

So, as we sit down with family and friends this year, or we run from store to store, or you’re just trimming the tree, consider that it is project management –consciously or not—that on some level enables us to enjoy the holidays.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Mike Drop!eDiscoveryPM.com logo with tagline

 

Communication: The Root of All E-Discovery Problems?

Throughout all of recorded human history –indeed, even before we recorded it—communication has been an issue. Early humans made carvings in cave walls to allow others to know things. I’m sure that some among them thought that such carvings were quite radical at the time. And today, many people find the current scriveners—those who incessantly post their thoughts, meals, pets, children, and activities all over the Internet—are just as radical, if not outright crazy. No judgment. In the end, it’s all communication, right? Facebook is the modern day equivalent of the cave wall. Literally.

Communication BreakdownCommunication breakdown

Communication is something we attempt, but frequently fail to achieve. It seems to me that communication is the root of many of the world’s problems. From the relationship squabble to cultural and religious disputes around the globe. If people were more open minded, less judgmental and more tolerant of change and differences, boy, would many of the world’s problems evaporate quickly. Is this going to happen any time soon? Probably not in my lifetime. But it does –and you’ll forgive the massive segue– beg the question: Is communication the root of all e-discovery problems?

A few examples come to mind.

When parties don’t cooperate in discovery, it is essentially a communication problem. If case team or stakeholder expectations are not met, that’s a communication problem. When seemingly ad-hoc decisions are made in a vacuum and projects go sideways, that’s a communication problem. If faulty instructions for completing a task are given, that too is a communication problem. There are any number of examples that may be cited and readers will know them well.

So, what should we do when we perceive that communication is the root of the problem?

A Pillar of Successful Project Management

Well, there’s a reason that Communication Management is a pillar of project management. The goal, of course, is to be proactive and consider the communication needs of a project during the planning stage. Ideally, all stakeholders –anyone who has any interest in the project—will participate in a kick-off meeting to get everyone on the same page and then schedule regular meetings or calls to report on the status of the project and any changes or anticipated issues.

But all too often, we take communication for granted, put on the back burner, or sacrifice it in the name of expediency. We assume, for instance, that stakeholders understand when we inform them that a problem was encountered while processing ESI. If the problem impacts the scope, timing or cost of a project, there’s a good chance they won’t fully understand. This can lead to a lack of confidence in a project manager and sometimes results in a complete meltdown. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Intersection of Communication, Quality and Risk Management

Part of managing communication on a project involves consideration during the planning stage of the risks to project outcomes – what could go wrong on this project? Evaluating those risks at the outset of the project and preparing a contingency plan at that time will lessen the impact of the problem. Likewise, itemizing the points at which quality checks are performed suggests that proactive thought has been given to potential problem areas and preparations have been made in the event issues arise.

Project Mansgement in Electronic DiscoveryNone of this will immediately resolve an unexpected issue that arises mid-project. Such circumstances can test a project manager’s communication skills. Successful project managers will possess –and those who don’t will need to learn to adopt—better than average communication skills.

“One of the strengths of a successful project manager is the ability to communicate clearly, succinctly, and without interference. Knowing what to say, to whom, when, and how is essential to successful communication on a project. Understanding the personalities and agendas of stakeholders and keeping in mind the culture, hierarchy, and politics of the project organization are all integral to effective communication. The communication process provides the critical links among people and information necessary for successful projects. Project managers spend a lot of time communicating with the project team, stakeholders, vendors, customers, and sponsors. Everyone involved in a project should understand how communications affect the project as a whole.” (Project Management in Electronic Discovery, p. 57)

Successful project managers in a legal setting also have people skills. They are articulate as much as they are able to listen and they persuade and make suggestions when implementing solutions. PMs display empathy, have coping skills, and great patience. They are also tactful and possess the temperament to deal with a wide array of people and personalities. The best thing a project manager can do is be honest and transparent in their communication. Nothing much more; nothing less.

Conclusion

One of the things that sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to communicate. The irony, I suppose, is that given this unique human ability one would think we would have it down by now. It’s a wonder why humans still mess it up so frequently. I don’t know if better communication is going to solve the world’s problems entirely. I’m an optimist and so I’d like to think it will, particularly as the world becomes more interconnected. I am, however, pretty certain that better communication can solve many of the issues that arise in e-discovery projects. Keep this in mind as you start your next project.

Why you should read this book . . .

If the focus of your work or a goal in your career is learning the principles of project management, how they apply in a legal support setting, and how to use these principles to improve litigation support and electronic discovery deliverables in the legal industry, this book is the most comprehensive exposition on these subjects to date. Not only will it provide an understanding of the basic principles of traditional project management, this book also outlines the best practices in a relatively young industry in search of standardization. These two things make this book incredibly valuable to the novice. In addition, for the experienced practitioner and the journeymen in the industry, this book will provide a useful reference for years to come

The book is called Project Management in Electronic Discovery

Book Cover Title

I write in this book about the work that a project leader undertakes. But more importantly, I write here for lawyers, paralegals, students, and support staff at law firms and in corporate and government legal departments or at service providers. This book captures the principles of project management and the best practices of discovery in litigation, particularly as they relate to the management of large volumes of electronically stored information.

At the same time, it serves as a guide and reference for students of the law, paralegals, and attorneys, and illustrates how project management processes and technology may be used to provide efficient, client-oriented services and high-quality deliverables in a litigation support environment—at scope, on time, and within budget.

I am inspired here as much by the need for proper discourse on the use of project management in legal discovery projects as by the growing insistence that legal teams function more efficiently and cost effectively. That and the realization I came to recently when I was asked to help design and teach a project management class for students eager to break into the litigation support field. Try as we might, neither the university nor I could find an appropriate text for an electronic discovery project management class. An article I authored a few years ago that outlined some of the material presented here for a trade magazine served as a jumping off point for this book.

Another contributing factor has been my many working with lawyers and in law firms, most recently as the Director of Litigation Support Services at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. Putting in countless hours, making I imagine nearly every mistake possible, and observing a good deal of inefficiency, and now having designed and implemented litigation support and electronic discovery work-flows, I have some sense of what does and does not work. To be sure, not all project management principles strictly apply in the context of every legal discovery project. But many of the core principles can be applied and, in my experience working in the legal business, it has now become abundantly clear to me at least that using project management principles can and will serve law firms and their clients well.

Why write a book about project management and electronic discovery?

There has been considerable discussion regarding the applicability of project management in a legal setting. Driving the debate in part is the need of law firms and corporate legal departments to find efficiencies and reduce legal expenses. Law firms, which rely upon corporations for a slice of the $300 billion legal services market, have begun to listen. Most firms are adjusting hourly rates, staffing cases leanly, or have entered into unique and tailored billing agreements. Fewer firms, however, have dramatically altered the ways in which lawyers work and fewer still have adopted project management principles into their business model. This book addresses how project management may be used in a legal setting to make one aspect of legal work more efficient—the discovery process.
A distinction needs to be made between applying project management principles to the entire operation of a law firm and the application of project management to discreet aspects of legal practice. It is of course possible to apply project management methodologies to the operation of a law firm, from business development to matter management and throughout the individual cases, transactions, and subordinate tasks that make up the core of attorney practice. Indeed, a few firms focus on just that. The emphasis in my book, though, is on the application of project management principles in the context of providing litigation support services and the integration of project-oriented processes into managing legal discovery projects and, more specifically, electronic discovery projects.
There is much work to do in this area. In the United States, which is 80% of the global market, the electronic discovery market is growing incredibly fast. The market worth of the global electronic discovery industry has doubled since 2010 and is projected to quadruple by 2020. Driven by the massive growth of electronically stored information and the need to manage that information for civil litigation, the e-discovery market, including services and software, grew to over $7 billion in 2015. A recent report by Transparency Market Research projects 16% compound annual growth rate for services and software through 2022, increasing the market to more than $21 billion. A 2015 report by Gartner similarly projects double-digit year-over-year U.S. growth in e-discovery software.
However, due in part to the recession and the slower than expected economic recovery, the legal services industry is undergoing considerable change. Law firms have folded, others have merged, and even the best firms have reduced personnel by 10% to 30% in the past six years. Corporate legal department budgets are shrinking, and they face pressure to reduce legal expenses. One need not have an MBA or a law degree to conclude that the current business model at many law firms may not be sustainable in the long term. To survive, lawyers and legal support staff in the U.S. and abroad—those at larger law firms in particular—need to change the way they practice and deliver legal services. Applying project management methodologies to the practice of law is one tool that will differentiate great firms from good firms and provide the efficiency and sustainability needed in a legal market that is very different today from just a few years ago. Additionally, project management brings structure and common business sense to law firms, which traditionally are not run like a business.
By far, the most costly and time consuming aspect of litigation is the discovery process. Electronic discovery is the prime suspect in what is a disproportionate increase in discovery costs relative to the overall expense of litigation. It used to be that junior lawyers gathered in rooms filled with boxes to review documents. Technology has changed this. Discovery is no longer about boxes of paper; instead, it is about terabytes of data.  Information is now everywhere. Email and text messaging are ubiquitous, and social media, smart phones, and the Internet have invaded our lives. All this data is discoverable in litigation. Discovery is not more costly because of inflation or because attorney hourly rates have risen. In fact, the costs associated with discovery, particularly with electronic discovery, have gone down considerably. Discovery costs more today because there is so much more information and costs are driven almost entirely by the volume of data. These things—the volume of data, the time and cost it takes to manage this information—understandably have corporations, law firms, and the government concerned.
In a world overrun by electronically stored information, it should not surprise anyone that new processes, new technologies, and a new breed of legal support personnel have emerged. In the mid-1990s, as computers began to arrive at every employees’ desk, it became abundantly clear that email and electronic documents were a new source of discovery material. Still, it took years before for the legal community prepared rules that even acknowledged the discovery of electronic documents. Today, almost all documents are created on computers and they are stored not in file cabinets or boxes, but on optical disk and in databases. Analytics software, long used in other industries, is now used to parse through vast amounts of data and to find documents that make or break a case. The litigation support industry and the process of electronic discovery were born out of the need to integrate technology into the legal process. People who work in the industry provide technical support, software, project management, and consulting services to law firms, corporate legal departments, and the government. A completely new body of case law and rules governing the proper preservation, collection, review, and production of electronic documents has also emerged. This once nascent industry is beginning to mature and stabilize, and it seeks standardization and increased efficiency.
This is the backdrop for a book that introduces new and better ways to manage electronic discovery projects.