Five Lessons on Project Management for the Legal Industry

Some project management processes are often closely connected to legal affairs. As a result, a distinct discipline in project management was formed—legal project management. There are two scenarios in which you should combine project management and legal knowledge: lawyers can further their training by acquiring PM competencies, and in non-legal scenarios that require extensive knowledge of legal framework conditions, e.g. in international and construction projects.

Staying focused on how best to execute project management methodologies is often hard, especially when being under time, budget and legal constraints. But implementing legal project management will pay off in the long run, because not only does it help law firms and practitioners work more efficiently and increase client satisfaction, it also gives them a competitive edge. So, let’s take a look at five project management lessons that are worth incorporating into the legal industry.

1. Think Like a Project Manager

The role of project managers are manifold: they have to be leaders, managers, communicators, and problem solvers all at once. Every project needs a project manager to plan, set a budget, create schedules and identify and mitigate risks. But a PM does not only need to excel in the so-called “hard skills,” they also need to have “soft skills,” often also called emotional intelligence. The reason is that a PM doesn’t just deal with metrics, but a big part of the job involves interacting with a lot of different project stakeholders, such as customers, executives, team members and others.

Law practitioners should also keep in mind that they need a combination of hard and soft skills to control and implement legal procedures efficiently. The best practice here is to either appoint a person who takes on project management tasks next to their regular workload, or hire a consultant who works exclusively as project manager.

2. Make a Plan

The first step for any project is always to have clear objectives and goals. Only when you have a goal to work towards, can you start identifying which steps you have to take to reach it. The next step is to break down your tasks into smaller segments and prioritize them. Identify which tasks are dependent on each other, i.e. which tasks have to be done before the next ones can start. You can visualize this in a Gantt chart, for example.

You also need to determine which tasks are critical to your project’s completion (e.g. with the critical path method). After that you can plan your budget and allocate the necessary resources needed to implement the project. You also need to identify eventual risks and measures on how to avoid them entirely or, if that is not possible, to mitigate them. A plan is never set in stone, but having one will definitely help you deal with whatever unforeseen events will come towards you and makes explaining your billing to your clients a lot easier

3. Be Flexible

One of the aspects that can cause problems for law firms is scope creep, which is essentially uncontrolled changes to the original project plan causing a delay in schedule and, as a direct consequence, a rise in costs. In times where clients are extremely careful about their spending, scope creep can cause a lot of damage, financially and also regarding your firm’s perceived reliability.

There will always be changes. No matter how carefully you plan, something will happen that might veer your project off course. Your clients might demand regular status updates or some other change of plan. Or maybe there is a sudden legislative change. In these cases your plan might be unfeasible, but that doesn’t mean the whole project is a failure. If you have implemented PM correctly you will probably already have anticipated this or at least prepared an alternative plan for such a situation. It’s most important that you do not ignore the changes or go into head-in-the sand mode, but deal with them timely.

4. Standardize and Improve Processes

Each case and client is different, but there are some that have very similar processes. Compile these processes and you won’t have to start from scratch for each arrangement. That way you can work much more efficiently and give your clients a much better cost estimate because you already know which steps to take in such a case.

Project management can also help you identify which processes are inefficient. These processes have to be improved. Remember that sometimes even if a process doesn’t work as well as it should, people will still cling to it and resist changes, because they are afraid of the unfamiliar. Which is why changes and improvements to processes should always happen in small, incremental steps.

5. Use Technology

While digital has not replaced pen and paper yet, digitization has reduced paper chaos dramatically and has also made business much easier. A software can help by offering tools to plan and manage your legal projects and it allows you to create and track budgets. Furthermore, law firms have to work with a lot of documents and you can easily lose track of them.

The benefits of project management software is that you can assign certain documents to specific tasks and projects, so the lawyers working on it can easily access the necessary documents. But technology is not just great for documentation, it also facilitates communication and collaboration. Usually there is a team of lawyers working on a project and through different project tools (e.g. Kanban boards) they can easily keep an overview of who has done what, thus avoiding the undesired situation of two people working on the same task.

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