The Ten Laws of Legal Project Management: Barriers to Progress and Client Issues

Author:Steven B. Levy
Date:July 04, 2019

This is the third column of a series on the Ten Laws of (Legal) Project Management. I’ll recap the ten laws at the end of this column, but for this month, let’s focus on some barriers to progress (Laws 3 and 4) and a pair of client-related suggestions (Laws 5 and 6).

By the way, the title of this article represents two different ideas. If you think of your clients as a barrier to progress, we may have a bigger problem here.

3. When You Discover You’re Digging a Hole, Stop Digging

Technically, this law is called the sunk-costs fallacy.

This law has two steps.

  1. Stop digging. Now.
  2. Figure out the right path forward regardless of whatever money or effort you’ve invested so far.

Let’s say you’ve hired an e-discovery vendor and you’re not making progress. You can keep throwing money at them, perhaps hoping to recoup some of it later, or you can figure out whether you have the right vendor. Or you can panic and yell and scream… and then probably wind up throwing more money at the vendor, only now you’re even later because you wasted time panicking. Of course, you can threaten them, but remember the project manager’s maxim that while you can bully someone into committing to an unrealistic deadline, you can’t bully them into meeting it.

In this example, when you realize you have the problem, stop. That doesn’t mean necessarily issuing a stop-work order to the vendor, but rather investing the time to take stock. Is it a real problem, or a perceptual one (e.g., they’re getting the work done but providing lousy status reports)? What are our alternatives? Who do we need to alert now about the potential issue? (See Law 9.)

Assuming you do have a real problem, you need to evaluate alternatives without considering what you’re already spent. That money – and time – is gone. (Okay, maybe there are penalty clauses and such, but simplify for the moment by thinking of what you’ve invested as money not coming back.) If your client gave you this e-discovery problem today, how would you solve it, knowing what you know now about the vendor?

Because that’s where you are. You have this problem today, no matter what happened yesterday, or last week.

So start from there. How do we solve it?

Of course, the usual constraints apply – total cost, deadlines, etc. But those constraints are separate from the past. You’ve dug a hole. How do you climb out? Rarely does the answer lie in digging the hole deeper.

4. Help Your Team “Make It Up” the Same Way You Would

I covered this law...

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