Every legal matter, regardless of topic or practice, can be considered a project. As such, project management is critical to complete a matter successfully and within a timely fashion. And as this industry becomes increasingly competitive, lawyers often need to perform the role of a project manager. So, what should lawyers know about project management?
Project Management comes down to scoping your client’s needs accurately before starting any substantive work. Legal project management (LPM) is about adapting project management techniques in a legal context. As an attorney, legal project management is useful for planning, budgeting, managing the case, and evaluating how the case was handled. In other words, legal management is a tool for accountability and efficiency within a law firm.
As attorneys, we usually tackle a case or project based on our prior experiences. However, we might not be working at optimal efficiency. With a legal project manager mindset, you can implement a documented methodology to communicate with your team, budget a project, plan strategically, and manage any case’s quality. In some instances, legal project managers will need an understanding of technology. However, legal project management is not about technology; it’s about aligning the goals of projects closely with the client’s objectives. Besides, an attorney with a legal project management mindset can help a law firm control their costs while understanding the client’s requirements and scoping the work that has to be executed. This can go a long way towards meeting a common client objective: reducing legal services costs.
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a project manager increases the success of a project by the rate of approximately 40%. However, to complete a legal project, there are four core phases, according to the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM).
- Define. To define the scope of any case, you’ll need to have conversations with your clients to understand better what they want. Practice active listening to glean insight and genuinely understand the needs of your client. Active listening will enable you to set objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely framed (“SMART”).
- Plan. Attorneys have to work with a team to define the tasks which need to be undertaken to complete the project and in what order they should occur. The scope of work (“SOW”) is comprised of what has to be delivered and the tasks that need to be completed to deliver the project to the client. Attorneys should use realistic phased scoping for the basis of informed discussions with clients. To plan out your cases, you can use project management software such as Asana, Monday, or Jira. These tools will help you set dates, tasks, and keep supervision over any case.
- Deliver. Rendering your services within budget is critical, especially if you have a fixed fee with a client. To deliver any project, an attorney must make sure that every task in a project has the right person doing the appropriate level of work. Your team could involve paralegals, assistants, senior associates, or partners. However, as an attorney, you can have the initiative to engage and manage your team. There is always a chance for potential risks and changes in a project, no matter how well you try to plan. However, developing risk assessments and planning for the best response will minimize the potential of a failed project.
- Close. For legal issues, you should not close a case only because it has been billed and done correctly according to defined quality standards. After the project has met the client’s goals and expectations, as an attorney, you should review the project and incorporate the lessons learned for a future project. There is always room for improvement for the next similar legal project. Ask your team: “What went well?” “What can we improve?” “What went wrong?” “What are some lessons we could use for a similar project?” Take the time to ask these questions. This “know-how” represents a significant asset for a law firm that could translate into a competitive advantage.
As attorneys, we are usually timid to use skills from other industries. However, you can see tangible results in your practice by incorporating different skills. As an attorney, I’ve found that these skills help complete any case or legal project.
- Strategic Management. Take the time to learn techniques to manage time and schedule tasks for a case. As an attorney, you’ll have to make sure all the project team members work on their duties in the appropriate order, even if it’s only a paralegal.
- Budgeting. Resources, whether financial or human, are expensive. Attorneys have to understand how to develop and review budgets lower prices. Legal project management is not something that only senior associates or managing partners can do. Entry-lever attorneys can be project managers. However, an understanding of finances will help you allocate resources effectively for the project and ensure that you have what you need to complete the job.
- Leadership. As an attorney, you should give an aim and vision to a case. Besides, you’ll need excellent leadership skills to lead a team of individuals, as you grow professionally. An attorney can display leadership by motivating and inspiring their team to meet their tasks. Even as an entry-level attorney, you must drive your paralegals that are helping you in a specific case.
- Communication. Sometimes partners and managing partners have other cases that they have to manage. That’s why an attorney can bring people together to share ideas and objectives. Communication is the cornerstone of effective project planning and management. Attorneys must know when to use different communication channels. Using the wrong medium can cause the main point of the message to be lost and frustrate team members. For instance, using Slack for a long, complex message might not be appropriate. Besides, you don’t want to “have a meeting that could’ve been an email.” Your time and your team’s time are vital to keeping costs down.
- Adaptability. Cases always happen in an environment in which nothing is constant except change. Being adaptable will help you assess issues from different vantage points and formulate solutions to address specific challenges.
As the legal sector becomes more client-driven, and client expectations with respect to the pricing of legal services change, project management skills are vital to align with the client’s expectations in efficiency, cost, and quality of the service. By implementing legal project management skills, you will be set to meet the modern legal industry’s demands.