The basics of Legal Project Management

Daan Pruijssers
23 May 2018
For most lawyers Legal Project Management is a big aspect of their work. In fact it is not that much different from normal project management, because “on budget” and “on time” are words that are used in pretty much all forms of project management. LPM can structure costs and time without much effort at all. In this article the basics of LPM are discussed. Next week we will cover more advanced tips in part 2 of this series.

Preparing the project

The client has agreed to do business with your law firm and you are in charge of opening the case. What’s next? In this phase of the project it is important to examine all aspects of the matter along with the client’s objectives. The following questions need to be answered before you start the project:

  • What is the client’s issue? – Is the issue clear to everyone working the case and what is the objective of the client in this case?
  • What are you going to deliver? – Provide a clear description of the desired result. In addition, give an indication as to what steps you intend to take to achieve this.
  • How will you keep the client informed? – Will the client receive progress reports, and in what form? Will the client be in touch with multiple people in the legal team working the case or just one contact?
  • What will the timeline of the matter look like? Providing the client with a rough outlook of the projected timeline will help them understand when key decisions have to be made. Also it gives your team a sense of the planning required and their deadlines. It is also essential to assign tasks to the different members of the legal team within this timeline and tie deadlines to those tasks.
  • What are the risks? – In every project there are risks involved. Of course it is impossible to predict every single result or outcome. However, by foreseeing and outlining possible difficulties from the start, you can clearly define what will be included in the price and what setbacks and scenarios are not included.
  • Which pricing model will you use? – Clients often demand more and more transparency in pricing models. This does not mean you always have to go for a fixed fee arrangement. By tracking your time accurately, you will be able to give detailed descriptions on the bill, leaving less room for the client to dispute the bill.

In order to discuss all of these aspects of a new case, a “kick-off” meeting is commonly held. This gives stakeholders such as in-house counsel, outside counsel and business clients room to discuss all of the points listed above. If you manage the first phase well, it will give you an advantage during the rest of the project.

During the project

During the project it is crucial to deliver on the promises made during the first phase. The limits of the matter are clear for both parties and there is a well-defined budget; the same goes for the time frame and the available capacity. One of the most important things is keeping track of the budget and resources. The best way to predict setbacks is by looking at historical data from previous projects. Examining previous time spent on certain tasks can, in particular, help you assess which tasks need to be done first and by whom. This way you can ensure the work gets done in an efficient and timely manner. In addition to that you will be able to recognize changes in circumstances earlier and act on those circumstances a lot quicker.

Communication is key in all projects, within the team of assigned legal professionals, but even more so to the client. Providing regular updates about the process with detailed reports is invaluable to them, as it gives a clear picture of the scope of the case. For additional work outside the scope of what has been agreed upon, a solution is identified together with the client (postponement, additional budget, etc.). At the end of the matter, an assessment is undertaken as to whether what was agreed in the preparation phase has been delivered. 

When the final steps have been taken and the project reaches completion, it is time to evaluate the project. As mentioned above, historical data can be vital to streamlining future processes and client interaction. Assess what resources were used and where you might have gone over budget. Perhaps a team member took more time to complete a task than expected. In the future you can take measures to either streamline this process or charge more because it just takes more time.

Big or small, all cases can benefit from the structure Legal Project Management provides. Hopefully your next project will run smoothly with these tips. Next week we will publish an article in which we give advanced tips for LPM. Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything.

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