BigLaw and the market it serves is hurting. Some believe the new normal will be the same as the old normal; I don’t. I am now convinced that project management – applied to law practice – will be part of whatever happens.

Recently, I’ve seen a surge of interest in project management (PM):

A frequent theme for me is that lawyers must focus not just on substance, but also on how they practice law. Project management is a great way to do so. I think an illustration helps.

Two lawyers may each offer good advice and solutions. Mr. Red, as part of his process, takes a stack of papers, throws it in the air, and let’s the paper land where it will. Then he has associates gather up the paper randomly, organize their portions, and work on the stack they have collected, occasionally communicating with each. With much scurrying and constant swapping of paper among the team, an answer emerges.

In contrast, Ms. Green carefully reviews and sorts the same stack of paper. She divvies it up logically among associates, regularly tracks their progress against set goals, and makes sure each is sticking to scheduling and communicating clearly. The answer emerges quickly and on schedule.

Red or Green answers might be the same but the cost is not. Under hourly billing, general counsels have been oddly hands-off in monitoring processes, even though some are, like Red and Green, demonstrably better than others. Under AFA, then clients won’t care if the paper is “tossed” or “neatly stacked” but the law firm will. In essence, project management distinguishes Green from Red. Beyond obvious cost implications, under which approach do you think lawyers are happier and progress more systematically in their careers?