Aptum has developed our own custom workflow for planning and executing complex commercial and tax litigation, tailored to provide better experiences and more effective and efficient outcomes for our clients.
We apply this framework to every project, regardless of size or type, to ensure a consistent process for our clients that includes a clear, documented strategy, routine communication, and objectives we are accountable to achieving.
Project management is not a bolt-on service at Aptum. As one of our three foundational pillars, it is a discipline embedded in every part of our practice and is a core competency for our entire team.
In this article will explain why we value project management so highly, and what process clients can expect from the framework we have developed.
Why is project management so important for litigation?
Litigation is like any complex project, it requires careful planning and a deliberate use of resources to prevent unnecessary delay and costs.
The antidote to this problem – project management – is not a new phenomenon. In industries such as software development and construction, it has been fundamental for years. Though in litigation, having a structured and documented process for project management is not commonplace.
One reason for this could be that most industries that apply project management principles must have a clear sense of what ‘done’ looks like before the work begins. Software developers must understand the required functions of a program. Construction managers must have a design to complete a building. These parameters demand careful planning at the outset.
Whereas in litigation, it is possible to initiate a dispute without having a clear sense of what the desired outcome is, other than ‘to win’. This often leads to a standard process of Court procedure being applied to every dispute, without a consideration of what specific steps are essential, and what contingencies to plan for.
It is also common to begin by making a broad legal claim which is only narrowed later, leading to a lot of unnecessary time and money being expended on issues that are not essential to resolving the dispute.
Project management is the application of processes, tools, skills and knowledge to coordinate the achievement of specific objectives, and this is what litigation requires to achieve the best results.
A blend of methodologies
Aptum has developed its project management framework by blending elements of the leading methodologies from a range of industries to tailor a solution best suited for complex commercial litigation.
We draw from Agile methodologies common in the software industry to manage Aptum’s day-to-day execution, and more traditional waterfall-type methodologies common in large-scale construction to manage the macro-level planning of our projects.
Aptum’s blended methodology ensures that:
the legal team and the client have a clear idea of the key objectives and critical path for the project;
work does not stray from the overall project goal;
progress is made according to the agreed timeline; and
an established routine is in place for reviewing and updating strategy to incorporate new information.
Aptum’s methodology is carefully calibrated to balance the need for certainty and clarity in our forward planning, and flexibility to quickly respond to changing circumstances through the course of a dispute.
As David Adason, Aptum’s Associate Director described in an interview on project management, “We don’t want to dictate the specific sequencing of work at the start of the matter. I’ve had experience in projects where you do a really impressive GANTT chart that maps all the tasks out in order. Then as soon as something changes, the whole plan becomes out of date, and you spend a ton of unnecessary time updating it.
“It makes sense for us to have flexibility when we’re guided by a client’s objective rather than a litigation process. We need to account for the ability to pivot and change course as we progress.”
How project management works at Aptum
Aptum’s project management framework can be broken down into three phases – kick off, execution and review. Once the kick off phase is complete, we alternate between our processes for execution and review until a resolution is reached.
When you begin working with Aptum, the first thing we do is conduct a preliminary assessment of your dispute which (among other things) informs the development of a project plan. We call this process the Legal Pathways Assessment.
Through which, we will complete the following:
Analysis of current circumstances
Building on the information gathered from the value conversation, we will analyse the strength of your claim or defence and identify the likely critical issues.
This will involve gaining a deeper understanding of the facts, what you are trying to achieve, the possible claims or defences that could be run, and a broad outline of the things to establish in order to make out those positions.
Based on the above analysis, we will typically provide 2-3 recommendations for how you could proceed in your dispute.
These pathways will provide different options for resolving your dispute, what legal process is involved in each pathway, and an indication of costs.
As well as helping you understand the merits of each option, the recommended pathways will also provide a broad overview of the litigation process.
Pathway recommendations may include:
Whether to immediately commence legal proceedings in the relevant court, or to prioritise informal negotiation. The decision to run all of the available causes of action versus one or a selection of the available claims
The approach taken to procedural mechanisms, such as the extent to which discovery or specific evidence is required.
Cost/ benefit analysis
We will provide a cost/benefit analysis of each recommended pathway. This will inform a conversation about which pathway is best suited to your objectives and your circumstances.
Once a legal pathway is agreed upon, the next step is to provide you with a Project Plan for that pathway. The Project Plan becomes the guiding document for how the pathway to resolution will be executed.
The purpose of the Project Plan is to:
Record our core objectives, target outcome(s) and target timeframe(s)
Flag the major areas where we will need input from you
Identify the triggers that may push us off plan
Explain to you the potential outcomes of each phase of the project
Define the scope of our engagement
The project plan also includes more detailed information about each stage in the litigation process (or ‘engaged pathway’).
We are also in the process of rolling out a claims map to accompany the Project Plan – a visual representation of the dispute. This aims to make the process easier to understand and provide a summary of important information for each claim or defence, such as a summary of the legal elements and material facts that will need to be established.
2. Project Cycle process
Once we have a Project Plan that establishes what we want to achieve, we move into the phase of execution.
We structure this through the Project Cycle process. At the start of each month (or cycle), we commit to a set of objectives from the Project Plan for the upcoming month. Throughout the month, we communicate with clients whenever necessary to request information or provide updates on progress.
At the end of the month, we also issue a Project Cycle report to provide a more in-depth update on what progress has been made, and what is coming next.
The Project Cycle report includes the following information:
a detailed status update;
any key dates;
a frank assessment of Aptum’s performance in achieving our objectives;
the objectives for the upcoming month.
an overall project summary
the financial status of the project
As well as the planning we conduct at the beginning of a dispute, the Project Cycle process provides an ongoing rigour to the way we organise our work.
Having a routine process to report on our progress is designed to ensure our clients are consistently up-to-date and empowered to make the next decision.
On the value of the Project Cycle process, David adds that “the purpose is to have time set aside each month where we take a step back and assess our position with a case, ask ourselves if we’re still on the right pathway, what’s coming up and what resources we’ll need.
“We review what our client’s objectives are, what our scope of work is, and come up with a more detailed action plan for the next month to execute the project. Inside the cycle, each week we take a smaller step back to discuss our priorities and set realistic action targets for what we can all achieve.”
3. Review phase
There are milestones in litigation in which we may be required to add new elements to our strategy.
For example, if the agreed pathway is to target a negotiated resolution at mediation, and it becomes clear that the matter will proceed to trial, the Project Plan will not have included a detailed overview of the trial process. In this case, we will need to review the Project Plan, update it, re-issue it. This is done to ensure that we are not repeating planning and administration work if it becomes outdated during the litigation process. Instead, we adopt a flexible planning process to keep our strategies as efficient and as useful as possible.
The two most common places to review the Project Plan are at the end of pleadings, and after mediation (if the matter is proceeding further into the process). However, we may also need to review the Project Plan if unknowns arise, such as receiving an interlocutory application from the other party.
Aptum’s project management framework is designed for better client experiences and outcomes. To discuss the process for resolving your dispute, contact us today.
David Adason, Aptum’s Associate Director, is the architect of Aptum’s project management framework.