Big Ideas ALA Executive Director’s Letter

Project Management Keeps Things in Their Place

I really love to cook. I look forward to hosting big meal events like Thanksgiving and Easter each year. It’s a great way to relax, spend time with friends and family, and explore new dishes. But until recently, I wasn’t a huge fan of everyday weeknight cooking. For starters, my husband and I would inevitably have the same conversation every night:
Oliver Yandle, JD, CAE

Me: “What do you want for dinner?”

Jeff: “I don’t know, what do you want?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

And on and on. Eventually, we agree on one of about four go-to meals — safe bets, since we already had the ingredients on hand. I would dutifully follow the recipes, regardless of how much they would make. “Makes 10 servings” just meant we would have leftovers. One less decision to make — except that we would usually get tired of the dish before we’d eaten it all.

Over time, we got into quite a rut. You can only have baked chicken so many times.

If we wanted to try something new, we’d often have to buy ingredients that were specific to one dish that we would likely never use again. I still have a bottle of fennel pollen in my cupboard that dates back to the Bush administration. And why don’t they make teaspoon-sized packets of tomato paste? I have never had a recipe call for eight ounces of tomato paste.

So, about a year ago, Jeff suggested we try one of those home delivery meal kit programs. Each week, you receive a box containing all of the ingredients (proteins, produce, seasonings — the works) for three meals. The best part? All the stuff is perfectly proportioned. If you need a teaspoon of tomato paste, that’s what you get. The kits come with simple recipe cards that walk you through each step. Every week you get three new meals. We’ve never had the same thing twice.

In addition to quite possibly saving our marriage, the meal kits have produced a number of other benefits. We eat healthier, spend less, waste less food, and have explored cuisines we probably never would have tried otherwise. It’s also made me a better, more efficient cook. In the past, I would grab a recipe and just dive in, chopping vegetables, measuring spices, and preparing meat as the ingredients were needed in the dish. The meal kits have you prepare the ingredients before you do anything else. Mise en place, or “things in place,” really does make a difference. No more kitchen chaos.

I thought I was a pretty good and reasonably creative cook, happy to stick with dishes I knew. But once I started using the meal kits, I discovered just how much better and more efficient I could be. I realized that I was wasting money, time and perfectly good ingredients and that making some adjustments to how I approached cooking could make a huge difference. I became neater and more efficient, had a lot less stress — and the food tasted better, too.

And who doesn’t want to be more efficient, have less stress and deliver a better product?

In today’s competitive legal environment, clients are demanding that their law firms have their mise en place — their things in place. They want transparency, predictability and value in the legal services they purchase. Meeting those demands requires firms to do a much better job of understanding the ingredients that go into delivering legal services and managing those ingredients effectively.

Like a well-written recipe, legal project management (LPM) is a key component to law firm success.

While much has been written about LPM, many firms continue to struggle with how to get started. In fact, a recent Altman Weil Law Firms in Transition survey noted that, while more than 93 percent of firms cited a focus on increased efficiency in delivering legal services is a permanent trend, less than 40 percent have actually implemented any kind of project management training. That slow pace of change presents a great opportunity for firms willing to adopt LPM strategies.

The good news is that ALA can help. We’ve got the recipes you need to improve your law firm’s mise en place.

The 2017 Annual Conference & Expo features a series of educational programs designed to give you practical tools and strategies to execute a successful LPM program. Sessions include programs on applying the Lean Six Sigma framework to legal operations, creating client profitability analyses, and integrating legal project management into performance. For more information on these programs and to register, visit

I look forward to seeing you in Denver and cooking up some exciting new strategies to deliver exceptional legal services and drive improved profitability