Best Tips for lawyers to become more organized
By Marko Porobija, Managing Partner of Porobija & Spoljaric LLC


"Project Management? What do you mean by that?" A few weeks ago, I was asked that question by a partner in one of my country's more prominent law firms. It was not sarcastic or even condescending. It was a genuine 'what are you talking about' moment. It was even more surprising to hear it from a person who participated in and led multiple complex legal projects. More often than not, it included cooperation with financial advisors and, of course, the client. As it often seems to happen, the brunt of the entire project organization falls onto lawyers, as we are considered organized, meticulous, and detail-oriented.

So, how does that work if the same people who are mostly managing projects don't know what project management is?

First of all, it is necessary to mention that some lawyers are very well versed in project management. Those lawyers have often completed multiple PMP courses and could, if they choose to, work in multiple other industries as project leads with the same success they have in running their law firm or its department. Still, the truth is they are too few and too far between. Very few law schools, even those considered global leaders, have project management as part of their curriculum. Just check Harvard Law School or Oxford Law Faculty course catalog. The word 'project' is explicitly omitted.

What law students learn about the skill is mostly a product of team projects, moot courts, or any similar activity that requires students to join forces in one way or another. Only after they join the workforce (and often much further into their careers), do they learn about terms like 'agile', 'kanban', or similar for the first time, and even then not at their workplace. And, at the same time, they operate in large systems of hundreds or even thousands of their colleagues, often working in a joint effort to create income for the firm and added value for the client. On the other hand, those clients more often than not have certified project managers, have entire playbooks on running various types of projects in place, and are always on the lookout for efficiency, speed, and cost-saving.

Which leads to a big question: why are project management skills still very much neglected in law and even in the business of law?

Reasons are, as it usually is, multiple and not so simple. One might say the educational system is lacking, but that is not the reason. That is a consequence. Law schools tend to introduce courses that interest the students, especially those that the staff can push through the review. However, many lawyers (both experienced practitioners and lawyers to be) consider measly project management to be beneath their level of knowledge, skill, and (most importantly) ego. It is presumed that one able to graduate from law school can grasp something as simple as handling a project. Balancing statutes, precedents, and complex transactional documents are surely far above efficiently managing a few people and their tasks. Of course, they are as wrong as one with an inflated sense of self-belief could be. The problem is, some of them never learn. They remain in wonder when clients seem dissatisfied with the service 'even though everything was done right, and legality of the work is beyond any doubt'. Yet, it is completely normal for them to be the tight end of a funnel and make everyone else wait for a week or two while they review the latest drafts. Complaints about 'lawyers slowing everything down' are mostly just there for the show since 'it is clear that there was no way in hell to complete the task faster.' As they say, ignorance is bliss, and lawyers are very often blissfully ignorant about many things not strictly covered by their mandate.

Besides the most obvious, there is the 'I don't have time' reason. The culture of the legal industry is one of overworking, mandatory burnouts, and shameful work-life disbalance. Having time for anything else besides working is basically considered a weakness. Education? You get all the education you need at work. There might be some lenience for pursuing a Ph.D. in legal sciences (as it looks good for the firm to have an academic on board), but taking time to learn some side-skill is mainly seen as interference. Most associates are too scared to try and go for that extra step as it might endanger their partner track (thus making project management skills useless in a position where no projects are managed). Or they simply feel wasted at the end of the average 14-hour shift and just want to have dinner before crashing to bed. Those few who break the barrier learn that they did right very soon, as their skills shine sooner or later when most needed, making the self-prohibiting barrier even worse for those who impose it on themselves.



What are the possible solutions to this scenario?

The solution is never simple. Of course, it should start in law school (or even earlier, as project management should be a matter of general knowledge and life skills), but that still leaves out all those armies of lawyers who are past their essential education years. Any firm willing to provide more to their clients (besides giving them 'the best' legal work) should be willing to provide project management education to their lawyers. Not just willing, but should be making it one of the conditions for their team leads, department heads, and senior staff. Yes, some are naturally talented for handling projects and teams, but most can get to the required level only through hard work and learning. Very often, the reason clients go to another firm is not related to the quality of final documents or even the pricing. The clients disliked the bad to abysmal handling of the project by their legal advisors and the fact that everything took longer than expected because of the legal team. The same legal team that is often wondering, "What is this 'project management' you are talking about? Is that some kind of fruit?"