Resource Management within Legal Project Managment

Today we see increasing numbers of law firms and in-house counsel investing in project performance and project management (PM) tools. While this is still a nascent development for the legal markets it may seem premature to point out some its failures. It is necessary however in order to ensure proper growth of this area and to continue to strengthen “buy in” from the stakeholders – for one failed project is not just a single failure but also serves as reason not to deploy PM methodologies at all in the risk averse culture of a legal practice.

Here I focus on the one failure that most often sinks the entire project management effort and in most cases the actual performance of the project as well (on-time, on- budget, results, and quality). This failure centers on the ability to have the right people at the right time at the right place. Sounds simple but it is not. Another way of wording this concept is “Resource Management.” Here the resource is people.

In today’s legal landscape the human capital component of our work is dramatically changing. Considering such things as outsourcing, off-shoring, near-shoring, and captives as well as new roles and positions within departments (discovery manager/counsel, project manager, strategic development) the spectrum of labor skills and locations has become more complex. Projects are typically not initiated, managed and executed from within one office or location. The Project team can consist of internal personnel (lawyers, non-lawyers, business executives, and support staff) as well as external personnel (experts, consultants, co-counsel, vendor partners and others). A project manager may be managing a team consisting of folks in different time zones, with varying backgrounds, and with varying degrees of exposure to PM. Managing not only the project but these resources is vital. Thus, properly articulating and documenting a resource management methodology along with the associated PM processes will allow for more consistent long term benefits of the overall PM implementation.

So what is resource management in terms of legal PM? The easiest way to think about this is yet another comparison to the manufacturing world. Decades ago the manufacturing process was relatively simple – a factory made a product on-site – bringing all the needed parts and labor to the factory’s central location. As the need to produce more products for less cost increased, the industry realized that it had to learn how to eliminate costs associated with storing inventory and under-utilized labor during down cycles as well as how to respond to peaks in demand that otherwise would be lost opportunity. The industry looked to alternative methods that allowed for a decentralized approach - having certain components manufactured elsewhere and then shipped to the main factory for product assembly and completion. This ultimately led to “just in time” practices whereby a company is able to control its supply chain with such a degree of accuracy that often times dozens, if not hundreds, of individual components arrive to an assembly location “just in time” (meaning no warehousing needed) for production. Further, the supply chain is diverse enough to compensate for supply shortage and spikes in demand.

History is repeating itself within today’s legal services market. Competition is fierce, margins are tight, and the traditional business model of the law firm is being questioned. The competitive pressure to produce quality for less is a reality that firms face every day. Couple this with the increased competition from non-traditional entities (such as MDPs and LPOs along with soon-to-be annexed businesses under the UK’s Legal Services Act) and firms are facing a challenging and complex operating environment. The stakes for deploying effective management tools have risen.

Resource management can be seen as part of the initiation and/or planning phase of a project (See or it can be an organizational approach to controlling costs and working more efficiently. Regardless of scale, RM constitutes 5 basic elements.

1. Identification: prior to any project it is necessary to identify the bevy of skills needed in order to perform and complete the project. These can be subject matter skills (such as tax expertise or foreign language) or operational skills (such as technology knowledge or process mapping). Though it should be a goal to outline all of the skills needed prior to project initiation, the skills needed may change throughout the project and/or certain new needs will emerge or others will become unnecessary.

2. Audit: Once identified the next step is to thoroughly examine your organization beginning with your immediate sphere of influence. This may depend on the hierarchy of your company and your placement within it, your physical location, peer group, etc. Once your immediate sphere is examined next look beyond to discover any other resources that may exist in your company but you may not have immediate access to.

Next look to outside groups and persons for the skills needed. Perhaps you are working with an outsourcer or a subject matter expert. If your project already involves these types of groups it is easy to skip this part and take it as a given that they will offer someone with the requisite skills. Nevertheless it is highly recommended that each potential member of the project team from outside groups be vetted. Beyond that, if you have visibility further into the outside groups, use it. Look to see if perhaps there is someone else who may be stronger or more “on point” for your needs that is not currently slated to work on your project – try to get them.

3. Access: Discovering what you need and where it is is one thing. Determining whether or not you can actually use a resource is entirely different. This is where compete analysis is vital. It must be determined whether or not a specific resource can be devoted to the project and what the “politics” will be if they are not in your immediate sphere of influence. It can easily frustrate the purpose of the project when a resource thought to be accessible is later - once the project has begun – not accessible.

4. Utilization: For each resource, what will be the productivity required and is this the best use of the resource’s time? As to productivity, will the resource need to commit 10 hours per week or per month? Is there more than one resource available? What are their varying degrees of competence and cost – meaning if one is more expensive but can get more done in less time versus a less costly resource but who is also less productive (e.g. senior partner versus 1st year associate). Depending on the scope and schedule of your project you may want one over the other.

Regarding “best use” of time – this is something that others may need to provide information on –including the resource itself. There may be other needs for a specific resource that outweigh your project’s need. It may be a loss to the organization to pull this resource from other more pertinent matters to commit any time to your project.

Finally under utilization, it is vital to properly scope and measure as best as possible the “optimum” utilization for each resource. This should be communicated to and agreed upon with the resource prior to engaging that person. And of course this must be measured to track performance and adjust for any deviation – whether the project direction changed and thus a new allocation of time is needed or the resource is not fully utilized for some other reason. Idle time of any resource is waste (cost) and will ultimately impact the project’s performance and success.

5. Control & Direction: Finally to what extent are you able to control the resource commitment and performance on the project? This is often an issue when a project manager needs a resource that is more senior to them – in a law firm setting think of a project manager trying to control a senior partner. This can be a challenge to any project and thus needs to be considered early on. There may be a resource that is perfect for your needs but in the end you may not have any ability to control them. If this is the case you may need to look elsewhere or more narrowly define the scope of work you need from the resource. If you fear you cannot control the resource – instead of looking to them to fulfill 100 hours on the project maybe you can define the most critical area they are need and attempt to secure only 5 hours.

Performing this analysis and conducting each step will help ensure that not only you have the right people and the right time in the right place but it will also set expectations of all team members. The more complex a project and the more member of the team, the more important this becomes.
Joshua Kubicki1 Comment