Posted by Charles A. Volkert on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 00:00 | Follow me
When I started my legal career, few law firms or corporate legal departments were hiring legal professionals on a project basis to help relieve overloaded staff yet alone assist with special projects. But in recent years, more strategic hiring practices have gained traction. Many law firms and corporate legal departments are successfully using teams of interim legal professionals -- lawyers, paralegals and others specialists with the expertise needed to handle complex projects such as mergers and acquisitions, investigations and managed review or eDiscovery matters.
Managing Large-Scale Initiatives Cost-Effectively
When structured using best practices, project teams working in conjunction with in-house counsel can provide a cost-effective option to managing large-scale initiatives. For example, we received a client request not too long ago involving document discovery in several countries. More than 16 million documents had to be obtained, organized and culled to responsive material within 10 days. We were able to assign an eDiscovery project team of 14 managers, lawyers and paralegals skilled in eDiscovery within three hours of the client’s call. The team completed the project three days ahead of schedule and under budget.
This approach to staffing and case management can provide law firms and legal departments with much-needed flexibility, while also ensuring the project scope and cost are effectively contained. But how do you make these legal project arrangements work? Consider these five strategies for setting up an eDiscovery or litigation consulting team for success:
- Appoint a strong project manager. Tap a project manager at the start of an engagement. This individual can be someone from within the organization or from a third-party project team. The main requirements are that he or she understands the legal intricacies of a case and has the project management skills needed to ensure results are delivered in a timely and cost-effective manner. This individual also needs the ability to keep the team focused on the big picture as well as the daily details.
- Define key roles and responsibilities. To avoid confusion and miscommunication, team leaders in law firms, corporations and members of third-party teams need to establish defined roles and come to an early assessment of what those roles and responsibilities include. In addition to the team leader or leaders, a project team might also include technology specialists, consultants, document reviewers and additional project managers in various locations, depending on the demands of the engagement. In addition, it’s essential to designate someone to review and quality check the team’s work. This critical role can fall to the law firm, general counsel or the project manager with the review organization.
- Establish processes and protocols. Once you delineate who will be handling which responsibilities, establish processes and protocols for the team to follow. Hold a kickoff meeting to ensure all team members understand why the team was formed, what its goals are and what needs to be done to achieve those goals. This meeting should include a discussion of the action plan, logistics, workflow, and guidelines for exchanging information, making decisions, resolving conflicts and so on.
- Communicate early and often. Keep communication active throughout the engagement. Even if procedures are clearly discussed at the outset, project teams need ongoing guidance to function effectively. Deadlines often change and the scope of the project can also morph and change, so it’s important for team leaders to continually communicate updates and inform colleagues about how their work may be affected.
- Stay positive. It’s essential for people leading the team to keep project groups focused, motivated and ready to handle high-pressure work. Being able to anticipate and help the team overcome obstacles and identify next steps is crucial. Leaders also need to be the voice of reason, especially as engagements grow larger.
Finally, it’s important to develop reward mechanisms that recognize both individual and team accomplishments over the course of an engagement. Although many initiatives are brief in nature, others can continue over a long period. With this in mind, organizations that engage eDiscovery and litigation consulting teams may want to consider their own ways to reward great work and keep project teams engaged and motivated.
Do you successfully manage project teams for litigation and other legal matters? How do you keep your team members focused on the task at hand and motivated to do their best work? If you have best practices you'd like to share, please add a comment below.
For additional information on eDiscovery best practices, download our Future Law Office report.