As the legal market becomes increasingly competitive, law firms are changing the ways they do business and embracing innovations. One such innovation, legal project management, is especially well adapted to the current legal environment and has yielded great results for the firms that have adopted it, increasing predictability, lowering costs, and improving client outcomes.
In general terms, legal project management is a structured process for managing legal matters. This process has traditionally been employed in non-legal industries, such as construction and technology. But in recent years, more and more law firms have adopted it as a means for gaining a competitive advantage. These law firms apply the traditional project-management techniques of planning, budgeting, communication, and evaluation to the legal context.
Legal project management typically includes the following five phases:
- Hold a kick-off meeting. The initial phase in legal project management is to hold a kick-off meeting where clients and attorneys generally discuss the matter, any concerns they might have, and what should be accomplished.
- Identify the scope of the matter. Based on communications between the clients and the attorneys, law firms must identify the scope of the matter. This includes the ultimate objectives, any constraints, and the desired work product. If a law firm clearly defines the scope of the matter from the beginning, they will be better situated to resolve future issues. Law firms should communicate the scope of the matter to the client in the form of an engagement letter or other direct written communication.
- Develop a work plan. Next, law firms must develop a work plan that outlines when each task must be completed, who is completing each task, and what the budget is for each task.
- Execute the work plan. Law firms must execute the work plan and make adjustments when necessary. Throughout this phase, law firms must ensure that they are closely monitoring the project’s progress and costs and that they are frequently communicating this information with clients.
- Evaluate the project. Once the project is complete, the attorneys and clients must meet and discuss the results of the project. At this time, law firms can identify what went right, what went wrong, and what opportunities exist for future improvement.
Although these are the traditional phases in legal project management, each process must be tailored to the firm, client, and matter.
Law firms that implement these legal project management techniques, generally achieve increased predictability and lower costs. Such results are invaluable given the recent popularity of alternative fee structures, like flat fees, and the increased cost-consciousness of clients. Law firms are achieving great success through legal project management and clients are noticing. In fact, many clients now often reference legal project management in their requests for proposals.
Accordingly, law firms should strongly consider implementing legal project management to improve their practices. Law firms that fail to adjust to the shifting legal landscape will be left behind.