Legal project management – a mindset lawyers can easily apply

Guest post by Rinesh Pankhania, senior legal project manager at Pinsent Masons Vario

Pankhania: Focus on delivery

According to the latest Gross Legal Product Index, the legal sector is set to grow by only 2% in 2024, compared to 6% this year. In response, firms may consider innovative charging models and legal solutions for their clients who need more flexibility with the same level of availability.

In-house lawyers will be facing pressures from the business to do more with less, to reorganise work across the team to ensure technical matters are dealt with and repetitive work can be streamlined and automated.

Where budgets are tight, lawyers will be considering what’s in their existing arsenal to still improve productivity, even if they invest less. One effective tool, which is easily accessible and cheap, is for lawyers to learn and adopt legal project management techniques. A small investment in developing these management skills (i.e. time and training) can make a real difference to achieving deliverables.

Legal project management is a specialist planning and organisation approach to deliver legal operations. In recent years we’ve seen appetite and its use growing rapidly. Applying the principles and rigour of project management to the law, these professionals support legal teams and keep projects focused on outcomes. This increases efficiency and ensures successful delivery.

Even 10 years ago, it would have been rare to see a large law firm employ a legal project manager. These days it’s more normal to find legal project managers working with lawyers alongside clients across some of the largest law firms and companies in the country.

Even if legal teams can’t justify employing or contracting a specialist, lawyers should look to apply some project management basics in their day-to-day work to alleviate stress, improve efficiency and productivity.

Some of these organisational techniques will be familiar to senior lawyers who will have created their own individual systems to manage their teams. However, there can be a powerful impact in formalising these approaches to provide consistency and expectations in projects and across teams. This can also encourage junior members to keep in mind efficiency and sticking to the prioritises on any project they work on, from the outset.

Approaching each matter with the criteria below will help achieve a smoother running of a project, reach their strategic outcomes quicker, whilst along the way improving team cohesivity and communication.

You need to start by outlining what you’re trying to achieve. What are you hoping will result from this process improvement approach? This will ensure everything is aligned in the best way to achieve these aims, and that nobody gets sidetracked from the project’s main goal.

The crucial next step of the process, and one that may take some time (but it’s worth it), is to build the scope of the project, and identify and start planning out what tools you’ll need to complete it.

An effective legal team needs to ask these questions:

  • What role will everyone have in the team?
  • What responsibilities will each person have in each part of the project?
  • How will, how often, and in what circumstances should, each team communicate with each other?
  • How can you ensure everyone is up-to-speed when they need to be?
  • Are there risks and particular challenges to the completion of the project?
  • How will bottlenecks be avoided?
  • When does the matter need to be completed by and is it realistic?
  • What are the real estimated timelines, bearing in mind the team’s other responsibilities?
  • What could hold the project back?
  • How will clients be integrated into this process?
  • How much will it cost and how will you stick this budget?
  • Is there wiggle room and is there a way to improve efficiency without unbalancing the benefit-cost ratio?

Regular thought and discussion around these questions helps to build a cohesive team and focuses not only on the objectives and outputs on a legal matter but how to effectively deliver and execute them.

Thirdly, it’s important to consider what technology that could be used to improve the speed and quality of every lawyer’s ability to complete their responsibilities in the matter. Could technology you already use be applied to the project (e.g. using Microsoft Office to its full capabilities) or could lawyers be upskilled in using new technology?

You’ll also need to assess how much time it could take, whether it’s worth for it the long-term benefits beyond the initial matter, and what change improvement processes you will need to introduce to ensure integration.

Simply put, having this project management mindset and approach to starting a matter will help lawyers allocate the right amount of people, time and resources to completing projects, delivering improved value for the client, if you’re in private practice, or the business if you’re in-house.

Focusing on planning and organisation can feel like a drag when as a lawyer you want to start ‘doing’, but a project management approach can ensure tasks are done efficiently and not unnecessarily.

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