Burnout and Legal Project Management: Why Law Firm Leaders Should be Paying Attention.

In late 2020 I had a massive bilateral pulmonary embolism that nearly killed me. Two weeks later, I wrote another post about how burnout prepared me for the COVID pandemic. I talked about the slowing down I was feeling and the sense of exhaustion permeating my life. I included this sentence towards the end of the piece, "Which also tells me there is another burnout around the corner." And I was right.

December 2020 and January 2021 saw me battling the most serious depressive episode I've had in my life. Taking showers and getting dressed were superhuman feats of will and determination. I begrudgingly agreed to go on my family's daily thirty minute walks in the early evening because one of my sons loves them and I didn't have the strength to say no to him. All food tasted like nothing, and yet I kept eating it. And I listened to Taylor Swift's "Evermore" on repeat. I didn't want to do anything, see anything, or engage in anything.

But I was also acting as Legal Project Manager and E-Discovery Director at my firm. I was overseeing a large caseload, managing lawyers and paralegals, and meeting all deadlines. Had I been doing this using old methods and approaches, I would likely not be practicing anymore. But serendipitously, I was implementing LPM techniques, which made an otherwise unlivable situation livable. Tasks were logged and tracked, personnel knew how to report and self-assess completion rates, deadlines were closely monitored weeks out, each case had redundant controls to monitor progress. And, most importantly, LPM gave me space. That space is where mental health is improved and burnout avoided.

Now that I've pulled through, and regained my bearings, LPM makes practicing law a fulfilling and manageable proposition. Which is why when I say that LPM changed my life, I mean it.

Legal Project Management focuses on the process of managing a case separate and apart from the substance of it. For those who know this industry, the notion of separating the process of managing from the process of litigating is foreign to lawyers. Indeed, "Managing Attorneys" do it all: strategy, hearing, depositions, meetings, briefs, and evidence review. This is a misguided approach. One lawyer, simply put, cannot do it all. And when one (or more) individuals at a firm are expected to do it all, and can't, the whole team suffers.

  • If you've ever sent a draft for review, "in a rush," and then waited weeks to get revisions, you've suffered from lack of legal project management.

  • If you've had to draft responses "in a hurry" because the 30-day deadline is now three days away, you've suffered from lack of legal project management.

  • If you've turned to a team member for something and they responded "but I was waiting for..." you've suffered from lack of legal project management.

  • If you've all of a sudden wondered whether someone did or did not complete a task, and when you ask them they "need to check," you've suffered from lack of legal project management.

  • If you've had to ask someone over and over again if they've done something, on their To Do list, and it never seems to get done, you've suffered from lack of project management.

The list goes on. On a personal level, lack of LPM generates tremendous stress. Or, said another way, traditional methods of law firm management are inherently reactive and inevitably stressful. This stress leads to burnout and attrition. The solution to addressing these, is LPM. If I was able to keep going, when I couldn't even do the bare minimum, imagine what LPM can do for your firm when things are going well?

I am passionate about making the legal profession more livable. First, for selfish reasons: this is where I work, and I truly need it to get better. Second, though, because it could improve the practice of law. And I can't help but want to be part of that change! Third, because LPM can finally tackle attrition and lack of diversity, especially in the higher ranks of the legal world. (More about that here).

I hope your firm considered implementing LPM techniques. You can pick one, two, or more, it doesn't matter. But whatever you do choose to implement, will improve your quality of life, the quality of life for the people you work with, and your effectiveness on cases. It's a win-win-win.

Dr. Giugi Carminati, Esq., JSD, CEDS, LPM is a supervising attorney at New Leaf Family and Legal Project Manager & E-Discovery Director at NDH, LLC. She also provides LPM and E-Discovery training & consulting. She has been practicing 12 years and is licensed in a number of states. She speaks French, English, Italian, and Spanish. She is a scuba diver and a sailor. She also loves running and occasionally kayaking. For more information, check out http://www.carminatilaw.com.

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