Project management might be traditionally considered the backbone of construction firms, architectural firms, advertising and graphic design agencies – those with an obvious client ‘project’ to manage, though it is also now making it entry into the professional services arena, assisting teams to keep track of client commitments, regulate competing priorities, and overall enable better communication between staff, better client service and delivering efficiencies that make a positive contribution to the bottom line.
What is legal project management?
Lawyers often need to perform the role of project manager or play a part in a project team. And all legal matters, regardless of the practice area, can be considered ‘projects’ in that they tend to have a definite start and end date, and they involve creating something “new”.
While lawyers tend to focus on the word ‘process’ for dealing with a client’s particular legal issue, when implementing project management, it is relatively simple to interchange the word ‘process’ with ‘project’. But successful implementation doesn’t end there.
The strong business case for Project Management in law firms
In the legal profession, project management is the process of defining the parameters of a matter upfront, planning the course of the matter at the outset with the facts you have at the time, managing the matter, and, at the end, evaluating how the matter was handled (from both the firm or law department perspective and the client perspective).
Client and fee pressures are driving the need for a more proactive, disciplined, or systematic way of managing clients’ cases.
Constant changes to manage
Ultimately, there are many aspects of a case that can change from the initial client meeting, through to a court hearing and resolution. Good project management documents all changes to scope at every step, ensuring there is less risk of fee-blowout and write-offs, because impacts can be identified and managed earlier in the process, rather than in hindsight.
Secondly, the benefit is that project management helps teams to communicate better with clients, assisting in their understanding of how things change, why, the likely impact of changes, and potentially, the change to fees as a result. Project management facilitates avenues for discussions about outcome expectations.
Successful project management starts with ensuring that lawyers understand the client’s expectations, objectives, and success factors for the legal matter. Specifically, this can mean a desire to win at all costs, or settle with minimum fuss and distraction. A team collaboration tool like Nozbe can easily improve both internal and external communication.
Then, the next step, based on the client’s objective is to developed a detailed outline or scope of the work involved, including key deliverables, milestones, assumptions, and at least a high-level budget.
Once the work actually begins, the next steps involve developing a project or work plan for the matter, including resources and staffing the steps (phases, tasks, and activities), communication protocol, risk analysis, and change plan.
With all of this actually considered up front, it is ultimately easier to manage the matter to meet the budget and the client’s expectations, dealing with changes along the way, and finally, evaluating or reviewing the matter at the end. What worked well and what could be improved next time?
While this is exceptionally detailed and not all matters will include this level of information, but including even a few key items will go a long way toward enhancing client relationships and reducing write-offs. A good piece of project management software will help keep all the procedures, information and documents up to date, safe and available from anywhare.
The benefits of project management
Studies show that project management shows many benefits for clients, including fewer surprises, more matters on time and on budget, better communication between the law firm and the client, better teamwork, greater efficiency, and reduced legal spend.
Improvements for the law firm are considerable too – not the least of which is more accurate forecasting of fees which we have already discussed. Project management can be invaluable to those firms which are embracing flexible working hours with team members not always ‘in-house’ but working from home, or only part-time.
Like anything new, successful adaptation and implementation takes and investment in training, patience and time. But for those firms which embrace it, the rewards are significant.