Can project management make you a better lawyer?

Honing your abilities as a practice manager is often dubbed as the best remedial tool towards improving and expanding your legal practice. What is lesser discussed however, are the merits of project management. While the perks of practice management are myriad, lawyers miss a trick by under-utilising project management tools. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have identified project management as a key competency and it is certainly a practice that can lever better relationships, transparency and productivity. In this article we discuss the benefits of project management and provide practical tips on integrating it into your practice.

While project management may at first sound like the preserve of engineers and, well, project managers…in reality, project management filters into all aspects of legal practice. Borrowing a definition of project management from LPM, projects are defined by the following three characteristics:

  • have a definite start and end point
  • are of a temporary nature, so once the end-point is reached the project is over
  • create something "new" or "unique"

As a result, almost all legal matters fall under the jurisdiction of a project, particularly from the perspective of clients. For clients; many legal matters are temporary and new, representing unchartered territory through which they must be guided and supported. Though lawyers may be tempted to consider legal project as a legal ‘processes’, clients generally view things differently. This bares out anecdotally: How often do clients discuss their frustrations about the movement of cases? Or asking for an update on papers?

Utilising the principles of good project management will empower you to regain greater commercial control over your practice and enhance your ability to manage client expectation. The need to do more for less is an increasingly common complaint amongst lawyers in a commercial universe. As a result, the legal profession needs to work smarter than ever before to deal with these pressures. The pressure change on fees, as steamrollered through by the SRA, adds a new dimension to the drive of commercialisation. In order to mitigate these changes good project management practices can help lawyers adapt to the new fee measures, to drive understanding of client need, hone instructions to ensure that work flow is properly agreed on ahead of time.

The SRA has acknowledged the importance of cultivating project management skills in lawyers, and it is now listed as a core competence. In section D of the core competence statement, the SRA asks that solicitors be skilled in managing themselves and their work, stating that lawyers should be able to:

Initiate, plan, prioritise and manage work activities and projects to ensure that they are completed efficiently, on time and to an appropriate standard, both in relation to their own work and work that they lead or supervise, including:

  • clarifying instructions so as to agree the scope and objectives of the work
  • taking into account the availability of resources in initiating work activities
  • meeting timescales, resource requirements and budgets
  • monitoring, and keeping other people informed of, progress
  • dealing effectively with unforeseen circumstances
  • paying appropriate attention to detail

To achieve this, Lawyers should refer to project initiation documents (PIDs) which enable both clients and lawyers to outline the project and craft both a structure and foundation to the legal project. This is useful as it helps facilitate a mutual understanding of the legal process, the steps involved and probable timelines. PIDs can really benefit client communication and aid project clarity and can be used in initial meetings or kick offs with clients.

A project initiation document should contain a selection of the following:

  1. project name
  2. project manager: this should include channels of ownership
  3. project requirements: While this shouldn’t be overtly technical, this should capture the objectives of the project
  4. project scope: what should be delivered
  5. project risks: factors that may jeopardise successful delivery, and the appropriate response should the risk become reality
  6. project schedule: what should be delivered and when
  7. communication plans: what you will communicate to key stakeholders, who they are, key dates for communication and identify the frequency of communication

Download our project management PID template to kickstart your next legal project…

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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