Lawyers have always done project management. They haven’t called it that nor done it in a systematic way. But if you’ve ever managed a legal matter (project) you have done project management, more so if you managed a team, worked within a budget, and on deadline. But, as I mentioned, it’s was likely done in less than an ideal or efficient manner.

Legal project management is more important today and needs to be more organized to meet client demands, and to increase value by creating greater efficiency, especially when working on a fixed fee.

The ole curmudgeon, Otto Sorts, tells a story over on Attorney at Work about a client who, – early in Otto’s legal career when he was explaining the many vagaries of practicing law due to uncertainties caused by the judge, court calendars, opposing counsel, and so forth – simply stated: "Son, that’s just plain bullshit" and went on to say that "life itself is complex and uncertain, but we live it every day, anyway.” In other words, stop whining and proceeded to show him how to “manage the damn project.”

So, Otto shares with us six logical steps he learned for doing so: (Our terminology is somewhat different at LegalBizDev for legal project management and is in parentheses)

  1. Define the project by identifying what the problem is through to the end result. (that is, what is the scope of the project and the client’s goal for the successful result);
  2. Identify steps from beginning to end. (specify activities with subtasks down to the lowest level resulting in a deliverable (e.g., draft document, complaint, interrogatories etc.));
  3. Determine the interrelationship and dependency for all the tasks and their deadlines. (which tasks could be performed concurrently, and which are dependent on completion of earlier tasks and thus sequential);
  4. What is needed in terms of information and resources (involving the team early in planning process to determine what is needed and to get team buy-in, assigning tasks and scheduling them based on team members capabilities);
  5. Eyeball what effort, expertise, and likely schedule the project will take. (using past experiences and lessons learned on earlier matters, involve your team in planning the timeline necessary for the project); and
  6. Periodically review and update the schedule and tasks due to changes in the circumstances. (watch for changes in scope that may impact the timeline and budget adversely).

At LegalBizDev, we would add a few additional factors; to wit:

  • A greater emphasis on estimating a budget based on the likely costs for each task;
  • More thorough analysis of the potential risks that could impact the project, and how they will be dealt with;
  • Greater communication and consultation with the client at all stages of the project from beginning to end; and
  • When dealing with fixed fees, greater emphasis on quality control.

According to Otto "(E)verybody’s talking about project management for lawyers these days. And I think it’s about damn time!” Amen, Otto.

Legal project management really is for real.