Jim Hassett of the Legal Business Development blog has a great set of posts on project management: What every lawyer needs to know about project management Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 (so far). In the setup for Part 1, he describes the thinking behind the series.
Project management techniques can reduce costs and increase profitability for any type of legal billing arrangement. The results are easiest to see with fixed fees. When a law firm agrees to handle a certain matter for a flat rate, it must find a way to meet legal needs within a limited budget.
The big shift is that the legal industry appears to be moving towards a fixed-fee arrangement, rather than bill-as-many-hours-as-possible. In the current model, there is nothing preventing vast and deep research. (There is also nothing that encourages development of knowledge management systems, if those KM systems reduce the hours billed to clients.) If this shift happens, then there must be a way for firms to maintain their high service quality and still make a profit.
Project management is the direction, assuming most dealings with clients can be described as projects: clients engage lawyers for a specific goal, then this kind of discussion is right on the money.
I appreciate Jim Hassett's approach to this discussion. He breaks down the elements and gives enough detail around each pieces that should be enough for most people to understand what's happening when / if they make the shift to more project management practices. Not all people must become certified in project management: they just need to know what's to be expected in the new environment, and it's handy to know some of the lingo and thinking behind the shift.
In project-based businesses, it doesn't matter how many projects we have running: it matters how many we finish. This is one of the important ideas that I learn and relearn in project management. The value to the company comes in completing projects. It is certainly the case that the value for the customer comes in delivering the final project. Home buyers can't move into a half-built house, and a client isn't going to be terribly happy unless the deal is completed.