Article: Earned Value Management – Assessing and Controlling Project Success in Law Firms and Law Departments

You have a well-constructed budget and routinely check actuals against it, but your case or transaction is rapidly approaching or already exceeds initial projections. Legal clients don’t like such surprises, especially cost overruns.  Properly monitoring and controlling a legal project, often called a “matter”, requires adherence to the triple constraints of scope, budget and time. Managing to these assumptions can be tricky as the facts of the matter may change, in turn affecting the scope, budget, and/or timeline. If not communicated properly, this often results in uncomfortable conversations with clients requesting a budget increase or timeline extension.

Unlike other industries whose project management fundamentals are more mature and formal, perceptions as to the current state of a legal matter are too often determined by actual cost (AC)—i.e., how much money has been spent to date—against the matter budget (more formally referred to as budget at completion (BAC)). However, this type of informal “budget to actual” analysis can—and will—cause misleading performance measurement and an inability to properly control costs. For example, let’s assume that we are $20,000 into a $40,000 project. On a superficial level, things look good because we have not overspent. This analysis typically represents the full extent of legal matter cost assessment and status reporting. In fact, we have very little information regarding:

  • How much work have we actually completed? (we already easily know what’s been spent)
  • Have we got to where we want to be?
  • When are we going to finish?

To answer these questions, we must turn to a more structured approach for monitoring progress against the constraints of the project/matter. This is needed so that preventative measures can be taken to avoid budget overages and ensure schedule adherence. Fortunately, such an approach has already adopted and in wide use in many other industries. Called Earned Value Management, or EVM, this form of financial analysis has become a significant branch of project and cost management. The importance of EVM can be exemplified by the fact that in 1991, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney canceled the Navy A-12 Avenger II Program due to performance issues detected by EVM. For those who claim that “you cannot manage what you cannot measure,” a clear grasp of EVM principles and their institutionalized application to legal matters and projects is essential.


The project schedule shows how you are progressing on your timeline. The Billing or Accounting department tells you where you are in regard to budget. Ultimately, we want to determine how far along we are in completing the scope of work, referred to as earned value.

There are several guiding principles when performing EVM analysis. To properly monitor and control your project using EVM, you must first plan for two things:


Budget at Completion (BAC) is the total scope of work to be performed and its associated cost—i.e., the matter budget

Planned Value (PV) is the matter budget at the current point on the schedule. It answers the question “how much work should have been completed at a given point in time” (e.g., 1/12 of the budget in 1 mo.)

For example, a hypothetical real estate acquisition has work allocated as follows:

  • The matter budget is $40,000
  • Expected timeline is 7 weeks
  • 4 weeks (A)  have elapsed so 70% (B) of work should be completed (first two phases)
  • PV = $40,000 X 70% or $32,045

In monitoring ongoing project status, we must then determine:

  • Percent Complete as of the reporting date
  • Actual Costs as of the reporting date

 Actual Cost (AC) is the cost to date.

  • Billing department says $15,000 has been billed and $5,000 is in WIP
  • AC = $15,000 + $5,000 = $20,000

Once these values are known, we can then determine earned value:

Earned Value (EV) is the value of the completed work.

  • Budget for the matter is $40,000
  • The attorney team has completed the first phase – Fact Gathering/Due Diligence
  • 4 weeks have elapsed but only 30% of work has been completed
  • EV = $40,000 X 30% or $12,000


Using the metrics above, it becomes very simple to objectively answer such questions as:

Is the matter on schedule?  In project management terms, this is called the Schedule Performance Index (SPI). The formula for SPI is EV / PV. If SPI > 1, the project is ahead of schedule. If SPI < 1, the project is behind schedule.

Using the above examples:

  • EV = $12,000
  • PV = $32,045
  • SPI = $12,000/$32,045 or .37
  • Since SPI < 1, project is behind schedule

Is the matter on budget?   This is called the Cost Performance Index (CPI). The formula is EV / AC. If CPI > 1, the project is under budget. If CPI < 1, the project is over budget.

Using the above examples:

  • EV = $12,000
  • AC = $20,000
  • CPI = 12,000/$20,000 or .6
  • Since CPI < 1, project is over budget

What will it cost to complete the entire project?   This is referenced as Estimate At Completion (EAC). The formula is Budget at Completion (BAC) / CPI.

  • $40,000 / .6 = $66,666


Amazing as it may seem, EVM is not highly utilized in today’s law firms or law departments. Perhaps that is because EVM requires some additional effort in the planning stage of a case or transaction, and lawyers are loathe to engage in planning (focusing instead on execution). Yet, EVM’s adoption clearly provides a far more proactive matter management approach versus the basic “budget to actuals” reporting currently favored by most legal organizations. It is, in fact, an essential Legal Project Management tool whose metrics and calculations allow legal teams to proactively and quantitatively manage their matters and assess the performance of their vendors.

As an industry, let’s begin to institutionalize EVM and other project management best practices to really understand and control project success



Carey Lambert is a Senior Consultant with LegalShift, LLC.    Carey has over 30 years in Project Management and is a PMI certified Project Manager, Six Sigma BlackBelt and Lean certified.   He can be reached at (601) 227-4301 or

News: Aurora North and LegalShift Announce Co-delivery Centered on Intellectual Property Practice Solutions


Aurora North and LegalShift Announce Co-delivery Centered on Intellectual Property Practice Solutions


Burlington, VT and Chicago, IL – November 2, 2017 – Aurora North, an experienced Intellectual Property (IP) software provider and Intapp implementation services company, and LegalShift, LLC., a leading industry management consulting and advisory firm, today formally announced their existing partnership to co-deliver Intellectual Property (IP) solutions to the legal market. The combined team exploits process, workflow and automation-based efficiencies for the benefit of law firm and law department IP practices.

The leading providers of IP practice and business operations improvement solutions have partnered to fill a gap in a market that has been historically underserved. Aurora North and LegalShift offer client-friendly, business-centric and experienced consulting services to benefit the IP practice along with professionalized, latest generation technology tools built and validated by IP practitioners.

“Our Aurora North team delivers extraordinary automation and technology solutions leveraging a long IP practice history, culminating in our PracticeLink software,” says Chris Kave, president of Aurora North. “We excel in execution with some 1,400 delivered software projects over the past eight years. LegalShift works with us to drive IP practice strategy, process alignment, organization change and program execution. The partnership has enabled us to deliver complicated projects, while increasing predictability and client satisfaction,” continues Kave.

“This combination represents a first in the IP practice marketplace. The Aurora North team has used their deep IP experience to develop PracticeLink, which, as confirmed by our clients, enables true efficiency through full automation of IP work practices,” says Dan Safran, president and CEO of LegalShift. “Our teams have successfully collaborated at multiple clients who have and are reaping the benefits of working with our teams. We love achieving or exceeding client expectations and now can benefit our mutual clients strategically, tactically and technically.”

A recent Am Law 200 global IP law firm client leveraged the co-delivery of LegalShift and Aurora North’s technology and services to significantly increase operational efficiencies across the firm. Working as a single, integrated team, the consultants provided deep IP expertise, extensive operational improvement best practice, senior level project management resourcing and application software design, tools and deployment skills to create a winning outcome. The delivered solution spans both PracticeLink and Intapp Open software, processes and people change. As a result, the demonstrated return on investment totals in the millions of dollars.


About LegalShift, LLC.

LegalShift, LLC. is a legal industry consulting/advisory firm offering strategic guidance and tactical know-how to corporate law departments and law firms in areas of business operations, financial spend, legal project management, process improvement, legal service delivery, organization change and technology deployment.

LegalShift’s consultants and advisors – consisting of business leaders, former practicing lawyers and experienced consultants – have worked with hundreds of law departments and law firms to help them strengthen processes, optimize resources and leverage technology to better manage the delivery and consumption of legal services.

LegalShift spurs collaboration between law department and law firm clients to improve workflow efficiencies, lower legal spend and increase profitability. For more information, please contact LegalShift by phone at 844 SHIFT US (844-744-3887) or email at, or visit


About Aurora North

Aurora North provides industry expertise and thought leadership to enhance legal operations, increase efficiency and reduce risk. Its PracticeLink product suite supports the Intellectual Property teams that protect the best ideas on earth. Aurora also has a rich history of implementing tailored legal solutions and is the premier implementation partner for Intapp products. To learn more, visit

News: LegalShift sponsors the ILTACON 2017 Corporate Corner

Magazine, Not Just for Law Firms and Techies, LegalShift consultants Scott Rosenberg and David Rueff explain the essential need for legal project management tools and techniques in law departments. Scott and David, both certified Project Management Professionals, point to a growing disconnect between in-house attorneys, their outside counsel and internal support teams in their quest to use performance metrics, financial analytics and periodic reporting as the mechanisms to manage budgets and promote process improvement.

News: ACC Legal Ops Conference 2017

June 4-6 Chicago (Hilton, Rosemont) LegalShift, LLC.’s sponsorship of the ACC Legal Ops Conference in Chicago on June 4-6, 2017, focused on its broad array of management consulting and advisory services for corporate legal departments and law firms.  The 2017 ACC Legal Ops Conference, acts as the principal gathering of in-house legal department operations professionals.  […]

Article: The Changing Landscape of IT Operations Practices

The Changing Landscape of IT Operations Practici

Developing and maintaining a high-performance information technology function within a law firm is a bit like the game whack-a-mole: Just when you think you have hammered a component of your operations into place, another area pops up demanding your attention. The path to achieving operations excellence is not for the faint of heart.

Base IT operations practices vary by law firm, but every law firm IT function should include a focus on applications, infrastructure and computing, client support, technology risk management, IT business management, IT project/program management, and other elective administrative areas. What does each practice cover, and how is the changing legal landscape affecting their focus?

  1. Applications: The applications area includes IT practices that span requirements identification, selection, design, testing, implementation, management, maintenance and expert support of the software applications leveraged by the firm’s lawyers, administrative team and often clients. This can also include application packaging and development and database management. The adoption of cloud-based and SaaS software applications and the flexibility they provide will continue to reduce desktop and packaging practice requirements. Cloud-based applications will cause the desktop environment to become less customized, which will reduce the focus on some applications testing and packaging practices. Based on this sea change, applications practices are morphing to include a strong focus on vendor management practices. Understanding applications and the analysis of requirements will continue to be strategic practice sets for law firm IT functions. In addition, a subset of the firm’s software applications and associated responsibilities normally found in the applications and program/project management areas may now exist within knowledge management in firms that have a separate knowledge management function.
  2. Infrastructure and Computing: This area encompasses requirements identification, selection, design, testing, implementation,management, maintenance and expert support of the desktop environment, networks and storage, access control, and overall hardware and software infrastructure leveraged by the firm’s lawyers and administrative team. Also included are practices related to data center management, IT backup and recovery, and overall systems monitoring. As cloud adoption drives the evolution of today’s operations practices, the legal market will reduce internal reliance on and investment in traditional infrastructure practices. That migration work could occur over the next three to seven years with a continuing internal focus on high-level system engineering and systems integration practices being owned within the IT function. Vendor management practices are quickly evolving as importance grows.
  3. Client Support: Client support includes the IT help desk, desktop support and user technology training. The past decade of outsourcing help desk, desktop support and client support has yielded mixed results. Some firms have outsourced everything, some use outsourcers only for after-hours support and others use third-party providers for weekday support. One newer trend is for some members of the outsourced team to physically resident on a client’s site as a hybrid outsourcing model, though the financial commitment makes this option less attractive. Training practices are evolving. Technology training is most often owned by IT, but some firms share responsibilities between IT and human resources. Most firms do not provide incentives for lawyers to attend training, so firms are adopting a combination of deskside, classroom, “genius bar” and self-service training (virtual or recorded).
  4. Technology Risk Management: Technology risk management relates to compliance, cybersecurity, business continuity and disaster recovery, and overall business risk management. Law firms have experienced a disruptive focus on risk management practices over the past eight years. Firms have been forced to develop strong practices in many places where none formerly existed, and more firms are recognizing the strong link between technology risk management and the firm’s overall risk management function. Firms are building a matrix structure where operational practices are jointly owned by both IT and risk management (or the office of the general counsel).
  5. IT Business Management: Business management covers shared business services within the IT function, including but not limited to procurement, fulfillment, financial reporting and vendor management. These operations practices have been owned by the IT leader, but many are recognizing that structured policies, processes and tools are required.
  6. IT Project/Program Management Office: The project/program management office is involved in the solution delivery life cycle. This includes business analysis practices required to align the firm’s user community needs with IT. Corporate America has long recognized the value of having good program/project practices to ensure project success and to manage resources, costs and time lines. Law firms have toyed with these models, with few recognizing their full potential. Strong pressure from both clients and internal shareholders is creating a renewed focus on these operations practices. Law firms are experimenting with similar practices (i.e., legal project management) to support the delivery of substantive legal engagements, which should further spur the use of internal practice sets. In some instances, IT’s program/project management practices (and organization) have been co-opted by the firm’s administrative management, as there is an increasing understanding that these practices have applicability outside of IT.
  7. Other Elective Administrative Functions: Depending on the scope defined by the firm, the IT function could also own and manage knowledge management, library or legal research, litigation and practice support, records and filing, and new business intake and conflicts. Firms that do not have a formally defined knowledge management function have recognized the value of having business analysts and analysis practices to ensure the firm’s legal and administrative practices (e.g., practice group chairs, line lawyers and administrative areas) are aligned with the IT function and vice versa. These analysts bring solutions to the practices and ensure that the IT function is responsive and aligned to business needs. Firms with knowledge management functions typically subsume the business analyst practices under that function. A high-performance IT function in a law firm will address all of these operational areas, identifying how operations needs and practices must adapt to the everchanging legal landscape. The firms that have made the most progress on this journey have focused first on assessing their current state and then on prioritizing the IT operations practices they believe will provide the most value for their firm’s business.

Dan Safran is President/CEO at LegalShift, LLC.  His is former EVP at Project Leadership Associates heading its Legal Vertical as well as its Managing Consulting practices.  Prior to this, Dan was President of Project Leadership Consulting and has held a variety of President/EVP/COO and Global CIO roles over his 32 years of work experience in both the legal and corporate business sectors.  Dan spent the first nine years of his consulting career at Arthur Andersen/Andersen Consulting (now, Accenture).   Dan can be reached directly at (312) 560-8932 or at

This article was first published in ILTA’s Spring 2017 issue of Peer to Peer and is reprinted here with permission. For more information about ILTA, visit