Nuts and Bolts of Implementing Legal Project Management

Project management has been an essential function of mainstream business for decades; and increasingly, project management strategies are being adopted by legal professionals to control and direct legal matters, in particular, for ediscovery engagements.

Legal project management establishes organizational procedures that help increase legal teams’ efficiency, not only for litigation engagements but for many other legal tasks as well.

If you’re just starting to implement legal project management within your organization, you may want to facilitate its introduction by garnering support from key partners and managers. They can help by explaining the value of legal project management to everyone in the organization. 

Types of implementation

There are two approaches to implementing legal project management: horizontal and vertical. Law firms and in-house legal departments will have to decide which approach is best suited for their specific culture and needs:

  • The horizontal approach crosses all departments and practice areas. Think of it as an organization-wide change where all matters are structured based on legal project management principles.

  • The vertical approach focuses on specific practice areas or clients. For example, a firm could begin using legal practice management for large ediscovery projects before it implements similar procedures elsewhere in the organization.

Because legal project management can be difficult to introduce, many law firms and in-house legal departments start by choosing the vertical approach. Implementing legal project management - one initiative at a time - provides an opportunity to work out any initial kinks in the process before going firm-wide; and can also demonstrate the value of project management techniques to those resistant to change.

Best practices for legal project management

Following is an overview of best practices that any law firm or legal department should apply when implementing legal project management:

  • Project lead: Every project must have a lead; this can be the head attorney or a legal project manager. If the firm is using an outside vendor for ediscovery, a leader should be identified for both the company and the vendor. Communication is essential to all projects, particularly when an organization partners with an outside provider. The leads should be in constant communication with each other and their teams.

  • Scope: The next essential task is for the lead(s) to determine the scope of the work – the clear goals or requirements that are to be achieved. In particular, it's critical for the scope of the project to be communicated accurately to any outside vendors. It's also important for costs to be assessed and a budget determined for the project.

  • Project plan: The assigned team must create a written project plan that outlines the major phases of the project, the tasks involved, and the necessary sequence of events. If there is an outside vendor providing input or services on the team, the plan should detail how multiple levels of review and quality checks will be performed.

  • Definite roles: To achieve maximum efficiency on the project, each member of the team should be assigned a defined role. The project plan should identify which staff members will be responsible for completing each task and with whom they should consult regarding the process, progress or questions they may have.

  • Risk evaluation: Prior to starting the project, the team must identify the risks inherent in the project and specifically plan how to avoid them. Legal project management can help to mitigate common problems such as lack of organization, miscommunication and unclear project objectives.

  • Project review: Once the project is completed, conduct a thorough debriefing with the project team. Review the project and determine which strategies were successful and any aspects of the project that could have been performed more efficiently or effectively. The organization should also seek feedback from the client and any vendors to determine how performance could be improved in the future.  

By implementing legal project management strategies, law firms and legal departments can enhance efficiency, productivity as well as the level of service they provide to clients. 

If you have suggestions for additional legal project management best practices, please share your comments in the box below.

For more insight on other trends having an impact on the legal workplace and the business of law, download a complimentary copy of Robert Half Legal’s Future Law Office report.