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The “Peter Principle” and the Rise of Legal Project Management

The Rise of Legal Project Management

All of us have encountered professionals who are at the top of their technical game, but who have been promoted into managerial roles where they are punching above their weight. And it turns out this all-to-common phenomenon has a name.

The “Peter Principle,” described in 1969 by Dr. Laurence J. Peter, “describes the following paradox: if organizations promote the best people at their current jobs, then organizations will inevitably promote people until they’re no longer good at their jobs. In other words, organizations manage careers so that everyone ‘rises to the level of their incompetence.’” (Harvard Business Review, available here.)

There are ways to mitigate the Peter Principle, and the HBR article describes some of the most common approaches (including use of incentive pay rather than promotion, dual career ladders, and thoughtful performance evaluations). And yet, even in the “learned professions” – science, medicine, finance, and the law – the phenomenon persists.

Enter the recent rise of legal project management (or “LPM”). The American Bar Association’s excellent Law Technology Today blog recently featured a roundtable discussion about LPM (available here). As one roundtable participant described it, LPM “is a step by step approach to help lawyers clarify the scope and potential cost of services they are providing for a client, proactively managing the services consistent with the client’s expectations, and using each engagement as an opportunity for learning and improvement.”

Not only does LPM facilitate great client service, but it also helps solve for the Peter Principle. When implemented correctly, LPM allows “lawyers to be lawyers” – separating the technical delivery of legal counsel from the budgetary and other managerial aspects of a matter. The energy and talents of all team members are thereby freed to focus on those aspects of an engagement where they can add the most value.

At Level 2 Legal, we take pride in helping lawyers to be lawyers, especially when it comes to the discovery and eDiscovery aspects of matters. Through handling hundreds of discovery projects for clients from Fortune 50 corporations to start-ups, our ability to budget – and then accurately manage to a budget – runs deep. And our proven processes allow us to execute on the discovery strategy and instruction from trial counsel in a repeatable, reliable, and defensible manner – all of which allows trial counsel to focus on what they do best.

It’s our way of solving for the Peter Principle.

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