For years I have had the good fortune to work on hundreds and hundreds of litigations…from both the law firm and corporate perspective. I have seen many innovative efforts to create the best processes for success. Working with corporate and law firm managers on a regular basis, I always stress the importance of utilizing a project management approach to litigation, particularly for determining labor and cost expectations and handling e-billing functions. Using litigation planning through project management mindset creates a framework to follow throughout the litigation that allows for a predictable model for all.
A telling example from my past
I was reminded of this last year when we built a small addition onto our home. Since it is a 220-year-old house…the planning requirement was extensive. Besides the regular architectural plans requiring us to determine where every outlet and switchplate would be placed, we chose a post-and-beam type of construction. Talk about having a plan before the work begins! All of the hardwood timber frames were precision-cut to exact dimensions in advance with the holes, connecting tenons and assembly details completed before anything was even shipped to us from Oregon. And finally, then we worked with the historical commission for our county who wanted to know the type and color of siding, shutter, flooring, etc. The entire addition was planned to an exacting level of detail, which made the project run more efficiently…for the most part. That’s project management applied in the most useful way.
This meant that during the day I was working on plans for litigations and during the nights I was working on the plans for our addition. And it dawned on me, that the fundamentals of organizing our construction project were very applicable to organizing the financial and managing logistics of litigation planning. Anticipating expected costs, service levels and the timing of various tasks are important whether you’re building a home or litigating a case. Of course, we had 18 months to plan our addition. In litigation that luxury of time to accomplish the planning, for the most part, does not exist. However, if I were to do another similar addition, I would have the plans in place to use as a repeatable model, just as in litigation.
The Litigation Planning Through Project Management Challenge
The adversarial aspects of litigation can mean that it’s not possible to absolutely predict and anticipate every contingency that might occur, but attention to detail can still provide a significant benefit in being able to react to surprises that arise as you move through the process. Allotting ample time upfront to develop a plan pays off in the end. More and more, we’re seeing the project management mindset being applied to litigation requirements, plans, and goals in the legal environment.
What’s In a Litigation Plan?
Any extended litigation project requires a sound, detailed management plan that:
- Spells out and addresses objectives
- Specifies all tasks to be completed
- Specifies the timing of scheduled tasks
- Includes an inventory of financial modeling tools and e-billing resources
- Support/resources for all personnel who will be involved (in-house legal counsel members, professional staff and paralegals, and outside counsel and other legal service providers)
- Includes a very detailed estimate of all expenditures, billable hours and other associated project costs.
The Long Term Payoff
Detailed litigation planning through project management for a particular case is valuable, but there is an additional long-range benefit as well: creating plans becomes easier to do as you do more of them. Many parts are reusable, especially pieces of the plan that deal with internal company processes that are consistent from case to case, such as internal team meeting schedules and agendas, billing procedures and file storage/recordkeeping processes. And while no two litigation cases are ever exactly alike, details and resources gathered for similar types of cases (employment discrimination, product liability or patent violation cases, for example) can provide an invaluable head start for future cases on related legal issues. The detailed work you do for your litigation plan today will pay off for years to come with a predictable, repeatable litigation plan. This allows for full monitoring and value metrics, providing a common tool so that all the corporate legal team members, outside counsel and legal service providers have a shared platform on which to collaborate.
If that goal can be achieved, your level of predictability for litigation costs becomes more accurate as you repeat the process. That’s a goal that is worth pursuing!
Next time we’ll look more closely at the foundations of a Litigation Plan.