This final article of our three-part series on Legal Project Management gives you guidance on what legal project management tasks you should consider both during and at the end of the matter.
What often surprises people new to legal project management is that perhaps the step that takes least project management effort is actually the ongoing management of the matter itself – on the proviso that the themes and solid foundations discussed in the second article in this series have been put in place! On the flip side, you often don’t even think about what needs to happen from a project management perspective when closing the matter (and, as we know, not all law firms are good at closing matters promptly!).
Focus on matter delivery
The solid foundation you have hopefully put in place before your matter starts (see part 2 for some hints!) will pay off many times over once you actually get stuck into the legal work. You are now well placed to manage the matter efficiently because you have:
- Greater clarity around your scope and client expectations
- Identified how to group and report on your work
- Worked out your (internal team and client facing) communication approach
- Agreed how to manage your scope change discussion at the outset
So what, from a legal project management perspective, should you focus on? Here are some of the key things to consider.
Managing the three key elements
The first step is to recognize that you need to manage three elements during the matter:
- Your client(s)
- Your progress on the matter itself
- Your own team
This is also perhaps an opportunity to introduce my favourite LPM quote of all time:
“All projects are managed. Some are managed deliberately, some inadvertently. Deliberate project management is better”.
Steven B. Levy
This means deliberately managing your client’s expectations throughout the matter by providing regular, targeted and meaningful reporting and communication. It also means taking time to manage the matter by conducting a regular review of your budget and work activities (remembering the important distinction that fees spent does not equate to work or value delivered!).
However, it also means taking time to look internally – making sure that your team is staffed appropriately, they understand what their roles are and they are kept well informed. Of all the three key elements, communicating with the team is often given least real attention, yet it’s mission critical and ‘rookie’ mistake. Also remember to include any ‘virtual’ teams or team members you may be working with in any communications (especially when teams are working remotely)
Focusing on these three key elements allows you to be more proactive and promptly identify (and mitigate) any risks or exploit any opportunities which may arise on the matter.
Make sure everyone who needs to know, does know
Just because you have sent your client a regular status update does not mean that they have:
- Read it
- Understood it
Take time to ensure any key updates are shared with the right people within the client organization (and also within your firm if appropriate) and proactively follow up to check whether they have any questions or concerns.
Watch for warning signs
You typically know them when you see them but what are some of the warning signs to look out for? The main ones to look out for and ‘nip in the bud’ are (in no particular order):
- A drop in overall work quality or re-work being done (or required)
- Increasing ‘bottlenecks’ within the team (such as document reviews)
- A ‘loss’ of project momentum and team enthusiasm
- The signs of ‘scope creep’ (i.e. where more work or non value-added work is being done)
Keep an eye on the ‘small stuff’
Even small and deliberate changes in your approach will have a significant impact on your bottom line and overall client relationship. These might include:
- Team staffing
- Making sure your team have prompt and accurate time entry
- Clarity around client payment terms and billing currency
- Reviewing and appropriately ‘messaging’ the client invoice before submission
This also includes not putting off the potentially difficult client conversations around scope, fees and resources (but then you already agreed with your client how to any scope change conversations, didn’t you?)
Ultimately what this stage is all about is being in better ‘overall control’ of the matter. We know that matters sometimes change direction during the course of the work but if you have a solid foundation from which to manage these changes you will achieve this objective.
Finishing strongly: Closing the matter
Resist the temptation to immediately ask ‘what’s next?’ when approaching the end of your matter. In reality, once you have finished the legal work, it’s tempting to rush off onto the next ‘urgent’ matter requiring your legal insights and expertise. However, it is really important that you take the time to close the matter effectively.
There are also three key things to focus on here:
- Finalizing any administration related to the matter
- Capturing matter feedback
- Helping build better institutional knowledge
Firms typically don’t spend nearly enough time on capturing knowledge or feedback. Let’s briefly look at each in turn.
Getting the administration right
The matter has gone very smoothly and your client is very happy and pleased with the matter outcome so you issue the final invoice. And then, you find there is time still to be billed. There is another invoice that needs to be sent. The client is no longer happy! You can probably see where this is going.
As lawyers, you often do great work, only to disappoint clients at the very final moment. The administrative close is very important. This may include ensuring payment and issue of the (truly!) final invoice or making sure your client has accepted your work product and deliverables (for example, the transaction ‘bible’).
However, it’s also important from a risk management perspective to close the matter within your respective administrative and financial systems (many don’t!). This clearly signals that you have completed work on that specific client matter and have fulfilled your obligations, leaving you free to work elsewhere. It can also mitigate any potential conflict issues down the line. Firms may often be conflicted out of working on another similar matter purely because a previous matter had not been properly closed. Don’t make the same mistake.
Much has been written recently about the importance of capturing matter feedback:
- It alerts your clients that you are aware of (and are actively seeking to address) their needs
- It provides your client a specific opportunity to provide feedback on the matter at hand
- It allows the firm to determine how it can improve
Even asking a few simple questions, such as ‘What went well?’ and ‘What could we do better?’ can provide extremely valuable feedback. However, you should also consider how we are going to implement any feedback given on future matters – a step often forgotten as other client priorities creep in.
Sometimes, feedback meetings are only with clients (sometimes driven by some materiality threshold such as duration, type or value). Remember to include your own internal teams. It is here you can ask questions about work allocation, staffing, communication and other matter-specific requirements which helps your firm get better not only on similar matters but – in time – across a much wider range of matters your firm conducts.
Capturing feedback forces you to reflect on what you have learned, capture these learnings and then use the knowledge to better manage matters in the future.
Finally, you should also take time to identify ways to re-use the materials and assets created during the matter to help build greater institutional knowledge, rather than these sitting in our physical or virtual ‘filing cabinets’. These materials typically include fee estimates, scope documents, project plans and any associated variations to these documents. Where in place, this also is a great way to include your firm’s knowledge management professionals as part of your wider LPM efforts as you seek to capture your firm’s institutional knowledge and identify and implement better and more efficient and effective ways of working.
There are two key considerations to keep front of mind here:
- Make sure any materials can found/ accessed easily and are in some clear structure
- Make sure these are good exemplars and are relatively recent documents (where you can), as nothing puts people off more quickly than accessing ten-year-old examples for their current matter
Addressing both these considerations encourage wider adoption, wider contribution of new examples and finally, wider benefits for both you and for your clients. In other words, it enables your firm to be better.
In closing, our short series on LPM has covered:
- Part 1 – why it is important and how it benefits your firm and your firm’s clients
- Part 2 – the importance of good preparation
- Part 3 – how to stay focused and finish strongly on matters
Whatever you choose do, and wherever you choose to start your LPM journey, the key is to do something. Even small changes in approach, such as those outlined during this series, will make a big difference.
Good luck on your LPM journey.