As both the legal and eDiscovery industries experience a paradigm shift to focus more on efficiency, productivity and value, the role of the eDiscovery Project Manager has become increasingly important for law firms, corporations and vendors. No longer a task-based, response-oriented position, today’s project managers need to be consultative, problem-solving professionals with subject matter expertise, highly coveted “soft skills” and analytical capabilities.

Over the past three months, The Cowen Group has worked with 75 top law firms and Fortune 200 legal departments to create a Skills & Competencies Checklist for the eDiscovery Project Manager and Consultant of 2014. This checklist is intended to be used as a tool to assess current teams and make better decisions on new hires—a challenging prospect in this rapidly changing talent environment. Industry leaders agree that the ability to hire, train and retain this business savvy talent will prove critical to an organization’s executive success in the coming year. As Steve Clark, Director of Litigation Support from Lathrop & Gage LLP, succinctly states, “The worst thing I can do right now is to burn a hire—there are no wasted seats on my team. Everyone needs to add value.”

While the benefits of project management have long been known in many industries, recognizing the value inherent in this role has only recently occurred in the legal sector. Even though project managers have been in the legal arena for years, the role has recently grown tremendously. In years past, project management was more of an informal process and project managers on litigation support teams did what they were told and were closely identified with IT. Little to no input was sought from the project manager in how the process ran. Today, “[g]ood project managers have a direct impact [not only] on metrics [but also on] the overall experience attorneys and their clients have on a case,” explains Jimmy Huynh, Director, Head of eDiscovery & eCompliance at Citigroup. “Good project managers have a direct impact on changing and adopting new processes and efficiencies for future matters and your workflow overall.”

In the past two years, the emphasis in eDiscovery has shifted past best practices and standardization towards commoditization and specialization. As corporations place increasing emphasis on cost control, law firms and service providers are embracing project management as a way to increase efficiency within operations, deliver better service and distinguish their brand. As legal budgets shrink, clients are less likely to pay for task-based services, such as loading data. Therefore, project managers find themselves in a more consultative role—helping corporate clients create strategy, develop process and generally figure out how to do more with less and get better results. Discovery project management is a repeatable process that allows firms and vendors to provide better metrics and more value to their clients’ legal spend.

“It’s opened up a whole new level of complexity to what project managers do.” states Kevin Behan, National Manager, Litigation Technology at McDermott Will & Emery LLP. “[These professionals] are now expected to be efficient problem solvers—able to take a problematic situation, judge what the key issue is, come up with a solution and execute on that.” Not only that, but, “[clients] want them all to be available, interchangeable and great—you have to have 10 out of 10 top performers, not just 8 out of 10.” These top performers have to “[build] confidence and trust, demonstrate an overall understanding of the entire [litigation or regulatory] process and be excellent communicators” adds David Cochran, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of Planet Data Solutions.

biz savvy

In the eDiscovery space, project management now requires competencies across three main categories: technology, legal and consultative. The amount of emphasis an organization places on each of these three categories usually varies. In general, law firms tend to place more emphasis on legal skills (although there are quite a few exceptions to this generalization) while service providers look for project managers with strong technical competencies. What we see across the board, however, is that the eDiscovery project manager is now expected to have far more subject-matter and topic-matter expertise than ever before and easily change hats on the fly. Analytical skills, strong verbal and written communication, and the ability to be process-oriented also top the list for most organizations. Hiring managers are finding the current talent pool may not be deep enough to provide them with a perfect match. This leads to an increasing importance of “soft skills” and consultative abilities in individual performers and a closely knit team that balances each others strengths and weaknesses.

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While it is unlikely that an organization will be able to hire the “perfect project manager” we do believe we will see the advent of the über project management team. The difference between the winners and losers over the next two years will be about people, as usual, and not about tools and technology. Relatively speaking, industry-standard technical resources are open and available to all. Successful delivery of value will be all about your talent—both individuals and teams—and how you use it. It is talent that will continue to innovate, disrupt, and create better ways to use technology, thereby improving productivity and efficiency and driving increased brand, market share, revenue and profit. In turn, increased profit allows for organizations to reinvest in research and development at a greater rate than their competitors. Organizations with the best hiring plan, career path, retention strategy and leadership will continue to attract the best talent and build better teams, helping them to solidify their place as a market leader.

We hope the attached skills assessment checklist helps you in evaluating your current talent strategy and in making better hiring decisions in order to become that organization.