Legal Project Management (LPM) is certainly not new. Ancient Athenian advocates probably planned how they would plead cases, so managing a legal matter is as old as the profession itself. What’s different now are the tools available to manage matters more efficiently. When attorneys properly plan the tasks and phases of a matter ahead of time they’ll find a natural trajectory towards charging fixed fees, a highly desirable thing for many clients which ultimately will strengthen your relationship.
Not every practice is right for fixed fee billing and LPM, but it is hugely beneficial for intricate matters that have many milestones and tasks. Even if you have no intention of setting a fixed fee, your firm will benefit from detailed planning. With proper implementation, your project plan means you can assess profitability before you ever start and adjust in real time if needed.
Keep in mind, every other professional services industry wouldn’t think of beginning a project without a detailed plan, would they? Architects, engineers, IT professionals, they all map out the work to be done to assess the challenges and provide a clear analysis of the work to their clients. This is what attorneys should be doing too.
So let’s get on with it and look at our five steps for Legal Project Management.
Pick the right tools and technologies.
There are all sorts of technology tools to help you plan, budget and execute your matters. The best and easiest to work within today’s environment are cloud-based. Data security has become less of an issue and more and more firms love the convenience of accessing their information from any device, any location, any time of day.
The best LPM software you use should be tied closely to your timekeeping and billing solution. This allows oversight to ensure matters are staying on budget and timekeepers are billing time appropriately. Most importantly, look for features that warn or limit timekeepers for exceeding their task budget. This real-time analysis of your budgeting matter is crucial.
Features to consider:
- Breakdown a matter into specific tasks
- Assign timekeepers to a task
- Define budgets for each timekeeper to complete the task
- Establish critical milestones
- Reuse a plan across multiple projects
- Easily review performance
- Meets LPM needs in a user-friendly and cost-effective way
Create the project plan.
Okay, this seems obvious when talking about something called Legal Project Management. But this is the crucial piece of making LPM work for you. A key part of planning correctly is a work schedule. Start with tasks and then build milestones when a series of tasks are completed. This not only helps associates know when things should be done, but it holds them accountable as well.
When employees see the amount of time they’ve been allocated and they see when it must be completed by, they are much more likely to complete the task on-time. Your firm is now on the path to higher efficiency already!
Some important steps to consider in creating a schedule:
- Understand the overall time frame of the project
- Develop a list of specific tasks and estimate how long each task should take
- Configure the most obvious order of completion for your tasks
- Assign the tasks to project members (hint: this is important in determining best resource allocation for your office)
- Analyze the profitability along with the effort and resources needed to meet your client’s expectations
Your project tools should allow you to create, assign, and view your budget as granular as the task level, so you can really refine your costs.
Now that you’re creating your plan, the schedule, and have allocated resources, it’s time to start the actual process!
Regularly review progress.
Way too often, companies and organizations will create fantastic plans but they end up collecting dust on a shelf because there’s no process to review the plan regularly. Firms should be at a minimum reviewing matter plans weekly with all involved members of the team.
It’s even better if the technology you’re using can track your progress in real time as employees are entering time, expenses, etc. This gets back as to why it’s so important to find a tech solution that is aligned with your timekeeping and billing.
This step cannot be emphasized enough! Communication means not just internally but with your clients as well. LPM allows upfront communication with your client where you can manage expectations and with your regular reviews, identify and inform your client if tasks within the matter are exceeding budget. Now they can be part of the decision-making process on whether to up the budget to meet this new need.
This proactive approach is much more efficient than just spending more time on a task, billing your client who may be dissatisfied with the outcome and refuse to pay your firm, resulting in a client-lawyer relationship breakdown.
This is one more way your technology solution can be dividends. Progressive billing and timekeeping solutions that are tied to the project plans should offer some type of client access that allows them to view time entries, bills, etc. This promotes transparency and reduces the administrative headaches of constantly answering the questions from clients on the phone. The result is more time actually practicing your craft.
Properly train staff.
This is often the Achilles heel of project planning. You have the best software available to plan, measure and execute your matters but if you don’t take the time to properly train your staff, all these cool tools go for naught.
Everyone in the firm, from partners to associates to staff members and administrators need a clear vision of the LPM method and how it’s to run in your firm.
Here’s a brief checklist for training:
- How to utilize the project management features
- How to utilize the billing and timekeeping software
- Clearly communicate the firm’s goals with LPM
- Establish clear guidelines for performance and compliance
The Road to Higher Profits
Legal Project Management, when implemented properly, can become a powerful tool for your firm. With active planning and monitoring of your matters, there’s no reason your firm can’t realize higher profits and even get to the promised land of fixed fee billing. Your client relationships will also be greatly enhanced while you become more efficient as a business, allowing you to do what you do best, practice law.