One of the key issues involved with Legal Project Management (LPM) is “assigning tasks and managing the team.” An integral part of that involves pulling your team together as early in the process to explain the goals and objectives, and plan the tasks involved in an assignment. [For more on the 8 key issues in LPM visit my colleague Jim Hassett’s web site LegalBizDev.com and blog at LegalBusinessDevelopment.com].
What is the point?, you may ask. One of the benefits of LPM is that it can do wonders in avoiding the “vague assignment” problem in law firms. Bill Melater, who is the resident Dis-Associate on Attorney at Work had an entertaining piece last month about his vague assignment experience.
He was summoned to a partner’s office and told to “breakdown” a file. Without further explanation, he really didn’t understand what he was suppose to do with this task that was thrown at him with a three-hour deadline. Worse, the partner promptly went into the “Do Not Disturb” mode by closing the door and turning off his phone. That behavior may not be a problem for the partner billing by the hour (although clients’ attitudes are rapidly changing on that topic), but I can assure you that it is a BIG problem for a firm on a fixed fee. That behavior is a money loser!
First, Melater wasted time trying to figure out what to do and most likely didn’t get it right through no fault of his. Time wasted is a guaranteed profit killer, especially with fixed fee work. But, even with hourly billing the invoice may need be reduced (written down) or a portion written off due to the client’s refusal to pay for the excessive time spent on a file review – which BTW is the client’s way of imposing their own version of an alternative fee. See my post “Has the Hourly Billing Model Become An AFA?”
Project management is not only real in the world of industry and thus to many clients, but in the law world’s “new normal” it can and will drive law firms to be more efficient eventually. If your firm is not ready for legal project management, partners at least ought to understand the need to reduce write-downs and write-offs by being more thorough, and efficiently assigning work to younger lawyers. With clients demanding more efficiency, the more efficient a law firm becomes, the more successful they will be at getting more business.