Allow Adequate Time to Complete the Project

Sponsors of a new survey, whether or not they have previously conducted a survey, always want to know: “How long will the project take?” From the jumping off point when the firm, vendor or legal department decides to proceed with a survey, how long might a sponsor reasonably anticipate it will take before the final report is published?

Internal surveys by a law firm or law department can be pulled off relatively quickly. They need less fly specking, they know their population and can both reach and coerce them, and the report is (usually) only for management’s consumption. As for an external survey, rather than blathering about all the “it depends,” I will bravely (or foolishly) suggest an archetypal timeline. What follows may be too ambitious a pace for most firms and departments, but my goal is to show the relative timing of stages and suggest a challenge for the elapsed time of an entire project.

Spoiler alert: 4.457 months.

The steps for the stages also provide a framework for a survey project. Each stage is an accordion of time, but they are far more likely to expand than to contract. The estimates of elapsed week are, of course, quite approximate. In general, if the survey team consists of in-house employees, it may experience more delays than if a consultant shoulders much of the work and pushes the client team to keep up the pace.

Weeks 1 to 2 to plan and staff the project (more time if you have to find, select, and reach agreement with a consultant).

Weeks 2 through 4 to prepare questions, circulate the first draft for comments, etc.

Week 4 to 5 to have a draft of the survey available online with the hosting software (assuming reviewers respond promptly to draft questions and you know which platform you want).

Weeks 5 through 11 for the survey to be open for responses (assumes follow up e-mailings and other efforts such as data cleaning as you proceed). A six-week fielding period seems a touch short, but not unrepresentative for legal industry surveys.

Weeks 12 to 13 for final data cleaning and creating the first draft of the report (where I am assuming only one report, no cumulative reports), plus some review.

Weeks 14 to 15 to complete the draft, add quotes and images, etc.

Week 16 to 17 to publish the report, circulate a press release, and set in motion publicity.

Notwithstanding this schedule, we should bow to the capricious gods of surveys. They wield thunderbolts, and surveys always take more time than you originally projected. Maybe 4.557 months is the answer, but I would take the over on it.