David J. Kearney

August 22, 2011

6 Project Management Practices to Apply to E-Discovery Cases

Filed under: e-Discovery,Litigation Support,Project Management,Uncategorized — davidjkearney @ 11:40 am
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6 Project Management Practices to Apply to E-Discovery Cases
David Kearney
Law Technology News
08-18-2011

Most lawyers and paralegals would agree that cases are projects that require effective planning. Cases that involve e-discovery carry inherent challenges related to technology, budgets, workflow, communication, deadlines, and the need for early collaboration with all stakeholders. Many of the informal project management steps that attorneys take during the life cycle of a case can be applied more deliberately to better plan, execute, and monitor the e-discovery process — which can result in cost savings and other benefits.

Similar to cases, projects, by definition, are temporary and have a beginning and an end. Regardless of length, projects have stakeholders who are interested in the results as well as constraints that need to be managed. More than ever, legal is being scrutinized to better manage costs and create efficiencies within discovery processes.

Regardless of whether e-discovery is handled internally or externally, there are significant costs associated with the collection, processing, reviewing, storage, and management of data, so employing project management strategies in e-discovery can have a huge impact on both the short- and long-term interests of firms and their clients. Although not every case requires the same level of adherence to all project management processes, there are a minimum of six that should be routinely implemented during the life cycle of cases that involve e-discovery. Cases must be closely managed to ensure that the scope is well defined, risk mitigation strategies are selected, a cost management plan is implemented, and all stakeholders (counsel and clients) are made aware that e-discovery can be an expensive proposition if not tightly managed. It’s in the best interest of all involved parties that the following project management concepts and practices are incorporated.

1. Identify stakeholders and manage expectations. All stakeholders should be identified at the beginning of the process. Stakeholders include counsel, clients (plaintiffs and defendants), the firms, and third parties. All stakeholders need to have expectations managed, and it’s important for those involved to understand how each stakeholder is impacted at every stage of the project. It’s also important to have a sponsor, or champion, to help manage and support the project, keeping stakeholders on the same page regarding production deadlines, timing of requests, vendors that are involved, tasks to be accomplished, and other communications.

2. Communicate and report. A communications plan for the project and reporting methods need to be determined so that all involved are consistently included in the distribution of information, including the plan, project status, potential changes, how to manage changes that might affect the project, and who needs to know things when. Many times, changes are made on-the-fly and not all personnel know the project’s status, or it’s unclear when certain events need to occur. The grapevine is not the best way to communicate.

3. Define the scope. This includes understanding and documenting the details of the project. It’s probably the most critical part of the process. The scope of a project is its foundation, referenced throughout, and it’s where all other project management practices and processes are built. If the scope is misunderstood or wrong, costs, schedules, quality, and resources can be drastically impacted. It’s not enough to know that there is 5 GB of data for review, that everything on a hard drive needs to be reviewable, or that the case is small. Full details and disclosure will help define the scope and thus help manage resources.

4. Create the plan. Define what needs to happen, when it needs to happen, how much it’s going to cost, the risks, how risks will be managed, how long project activities will take, and who will perform the work. Plan for what is known and unknown, plan for alternatives and contingencies, and know how much the pieces of the project will cost and what can impact the costs. Identify the resources needed for collection, processing, production, and storage of data.

5. Manage costs. It’s essential to manage costs, especially with e-discovery projects, because it’s easy for budgets to quickly get out of control. There are many techniques for estimating costs and controlling budgets throughout the process. The end of the project should not be the first time that issues with costs are identified. Having a project conclude on or near budget should not be a luck-based event. If costs are estimated, monitored, and controlled throughout the project, then actual costs will be much closer to budget. Costs are one of the most critical elements of e-discovery; knowing how to estimate costs at the start of the project and control them throughout the project are absolutely critical.

6. Document lessons learned. Maintaining historical data on projects, such as why certain decisions were made, the outcome, what would have provided better results, and a summary of resources involved will be extremely valuable to anyone working on the next e-discovery project. Imagine knowing the collection process and related costs of a project that included numerous mobile custodians and multiple data centers, especially if you never worked on a project that included those details. Imagine being able to more easily put together an accurate plan if you could tap your organization’s historical knowledge. We each have our own personal “lessons learned” database in our head, but it’s only as good as our memory and it’s only available as long as we’re around.

Although it may appear on the surface that project management practices only add to the overhead and costs of e-discovery projects, it has been proven that project management can actually better control costs, enhance communications, and make
projects more successful.

David Kearney is director of technology services at Cohen & Grigsby, based in Pittsburgh, Pa. E-mail: DKearney@cohenlaw.com

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Reprinted with permission from Law Technology News. Further Duplication prohibited.

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