As more law firms and corporations are faced with balancing outcomes and cost containment in litigation, and especially in e-discovery and document review, more continuing legal education courses, industry conferences, white papers and blogs are addressing the importance of project management in the legal profession. Because the concept of applying project management processes to the legal profession is evolving; attorneys, IT professionals, paralegals and litigation support personnel are investigating where they fit in to the overall process and how employing project management principals can be of benefit in managing e-discovery projects. According to many industry professionals, effective e-discovery best practices for project management consists of 6 steps, which should be followed regardless of the size of the project.
Many jurisdictions require that all parties hold a conference early in the litigation to address the expectations of each side in relation to e-discovery. Judges are increasingly intolerant of litigants who do not communicate or cooperate with other parties in the discovery process. For this reason, it is crucial to identify the key stakeholders; within the client law firm, their client’s organization and for all opposing counsel to outline what is expected.
2. Open Lines of Communication
A key factor in successful project management is effective communication. In project management, as well as other business practices, the adage “garbage-in equals garbage-out” applies. It is crucial that project managers communicate clearly, to ensure they receive the information necessary to complete a project accurately, within deadlines and within budget. Active feedback from key stakeholders is crucial in this regard. Lack of efficient communication in e-discovery can result in sanctions, at times even if the errors made were not intentional.
3. Document Processes
If the key stakeholders do not have access to the details of a project, they will not have crucial information that may become necessary for defensibility as the litigation progresses. In addition to tracking chain of custody for data and media, having detailed project information can affect the ultimate outcome of a case. Seasoned project managers understand this, and will defensibly track critical project information throughout the litigation lifecycle.
4. Expect the Unexpected
While it can be straight-forward to plan for litigation events that are known, unknown events are very likely to occur – especially when e-discovery is involved. Effective project management identifies common potential risks in advance, creating contingency plans ahead of time while striving to avoid any pitfalls. When the unforeseen does occur, the ability to calmly and skillfully handle the situation sets excellent project managers above the rest.
In the technology age, e-discovery costs can easily get out of control. By estimating, monitoring and controlling costs throughout the litigation lifecycle, communicating every step of the way, budgeting discovery and review costs becomes less difficult and more predictable. Good project management allows for more accurate estimates of potential costs at the beginning of a project. Exceptional project management eliminates surprises throughout the litigation by employing transparent invoicing, reporting, check-ins and adjustments as the project progresses. A key component to this is the client’s own involvement in communicating changes to the scope of a project, being open to discussion on how such changes affect the project’s budget or the initial pricing and estimates provided.
6. Conduct a “Post Mortem”
Reviewing any project after completion, to determine what went wrong for correction or to identify what went right for repetition, is a critical final step in successfully managing a project. Understanding what worked and what did not and addressing any issues or supporting the successes equips all parties involved to more effectively manage their next e-discovery project.
Project management principals clearly have a place in the legal profession. Employing these 6 concepts of project management, in addition to industry accepted e-discovery practices, allows for the occurrence of fewer problems and stakeholder understanding as to what is expected.