Legal Projects: Why the Legal Industry Needs Project Management

Linh Tran, Thursday 13 October 2016 | Reading time: unknown
Photo by Flickr User Blogtrepreneur under CC BY 2.0 (edited: size)

The legal industry is a very competitive market, so legal firms are under increasing pressure to cut costs, improve revenue, and to offer clients more value for their money. 

A possible solution? Project Management. Well, it’s not that simple of course, but it’s a step in the right direction. The second part of our October series, takes a look at how implementing project management can help legal professionals address and mitigate specific stress points of the industry. 

The legal industry and project management

The two industries are actually very closely linked. So close in fact that a completely new branch of project management was created: Legal project management. Project managers need to take legal requirements into account when implementing projects. This is especially a challenge when it comes to international projects, as each country has its own rules and regulations. These regulations are constraints which the project manager has to take into account in the project planning.

On the other hand, the legal industry has also slowly realized the benefits of project management. As the legal market is an extremely competitive one, legal firms are under increased pressure to improve the efficiency of their services, while trying to reconcile the two opposing demands of increasing revenue and offering clients more value for less costs. Many have realized that the traditional organizational approaches are not enough to survive in a fast-moving world and that they need to adopt new methods to stay competitive. 

5 project management tips for the legal industry

Project management does not guarantee success. But implemented correctly, it can help legal firms increase the efficiency of their processes and procedures. And as a result decrease costs, while being able to offer high quality service to clients.  

1. Get into the PM mindset

Project managers need to have the necessary hard skills and soft skills to lead projects successfully. They need to have exceptional planning skills. They also need to be able to track metrics, analyze data, set and manage budgets, and manage risks, constraints and other limitations. Successful project managers also have soft skills, such as leadership skills, communication skills and emotional intelligence.  

The good news: Most lawyers already possess most of these skills - hard and soft ones. A legal procedure - just like a project - needs to be planned carefully, including setting a budget, creating a schedule and of course, identifying and mitigating risks. They also have the necessary soft skills as they have to deal with a multitude of stakeholders, such as clients, other lawyers, judges etc. So getting into the project management mindset is actually not that difficult for legal professionals. 

2. Optimize legal processes

Of course, each case is different, but there are certain processes for similar cases and legal procedures often dictate a case’s process anyway. While the details might be different, each legal case has to follow certain steps, e.g. case assessment, pre-trial procedures, trial preparation, post-trial review etc. These recurring activities and tasks can be standardized and optimized by using project management methods. Lawyers can break their tasks down into a work breakdown structure and track the progress and manage the scope of the case.  They can also make use of methods such as Lean or Six Sigma to eliminate inefficient processes, so they can concentrate on the important activities.

3. Document the lessons learned

Rigorous documentation is not something new for the legal industry, in fact, it’s a requirement. Obviously, there are details that can’t be shared with anyone outside of the case, but you can still document certain procedures and templates so you can retain the knowledge for later cases. You should also document mistakes - and victories - which can serve as lessons learned and can be used as best practice advice. Learning from experiences will increase your planning security for future cases, e.g. you will be able to create more reliable budget estimates because you can predict costs better by using historical data.

4. Increase your agility

Agile is often associated with IT development, but legal teams can benefit greatly from it too. As customers are becoming more cost conscious, it is important to deliver high quality service and consulting at low costs, while still making revenue for the firm. Agile enables legal firms to work more efficiently and it facilitates better collaboration – within the team and with external stakeholders. Agile legal teams are more flexible than teams that still follow the traditional siloed organizational approach.

5. Use the right tools

Yes, you can plan with Excel, or even pen and paper, but that doesn’t mean that you should. One of the key aspects of project management is scheduling. And while Excel is a great tool, you will quickly reach a limit. Using the right project management tool increases the chances of completing a case successfully. With the right tool, you will be able to optimize processes, create more accurate budgets, retain knowledge and facilitate more effective collaboration and communication.

Legal firms can use a PM tool to plan a case, identify and schedule tasks, ensure an effective utilization of resources, create and track budgets. One of the benefits of using a tool is that you can assign documents to specific tasks and case activities, which means that lawyers can keep track of all important case documents and that they can easily access a document – from any place and any device. Clients and other involved parties can easily track the progress of the case in real-time, this makes the work of lawyers more transparent and billing more comprehensible.

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