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Chapter 4/6

Making Legal Project Management Work For You

Managing a Small Law Firm

6 min read

Making Legal Project Management Work For You

Law firm project management is simply the act of planning, controlling, and finishing projects to achieve a certain goal within your firm. For example, project management includes understanding your business goals, the best way to achieve them, and the critical tasks your team must complete to close a project.

Completing projects and tasks haphazardly to keep the lights on can lead to burnout; putting out one fire at a time is a guaranteed recipe for chaos. To avoid making life harder for yourself and your staff and ensure you continue to provide high-quality legal services to your clients, you must put a strong project management system in place.

How to Properly Manage Law Firm Projects

In your law firm, the most common projects are client cases that have a definite beginning and a close. Yet, you might also come across other projects, such as internal projects, pro bono work, and more. Proper project management ensures your team remains productive, regardless of the size or type of project at hand.

In its most basic form, effective legal project management involves:

  • Setting a goal. With each project you start, you must set a goal, whether it’s a client case, a new marketing initiative, or something else. What do you want to achieve at the end of this project? As you move through a project, you’ll want to periodically check back in with these goals to stay on track.

  • Creating a timeline. Create a timeline that outlines the steps you must take to reach the goal, including deadlines for each task or step.

  • Defining who’s responsible. Identify who’s responsible for each task or step, as well as who’s responsible for bringing the project to final completion.

As you work on your projects or cases, keep the following in mind:

  • Check in to make sure you are collaborating with key stakeholders. How are you collaborating with your clients? Throughout your projects, ask yourself if what you’re doing aligns with what your client asked for.

  • How are you communicating with your clients and your team? How are you managing client and team feedback during a project? Consider how you could improve communication throughout a project. For example, are you taking the time for a client call when a quick email would suffice?

  • Are your processes simple? Are your cases moving through your firm efficiently? Consider what you could change moving forward to make complex steps in your process simpler.

At the end of each project, you and the rest of your firm should communicate what went well and what you can improve next time. This will ensure you’re moving forward, increasing productivity with each project.

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode #353

Managing Projects Without a Project Manager, with Ashley Steckler

Listen to Episode

Project Management Tools

To keep everyone on the same page and your projects moving forward as they should, implement a project management tool. These tools allow you to create tasks, mark tasks complete, track all your projects, and more, all in one place. Plus, they enhance team collaboration, regardless of location. 

Some law practice management tools have a project management component. Examples of non-legal project management tools include Trello, Asana, ClickUp, Basecamp, and Monday.com. If you don’t already have something that can handle project management needs within your case or practice management, think of your project management as the place where your team comes to collaborate.

Embrace the Idea of Constant Improvement

As you complete projects using your new understanding of law firm project management and workflow, you’ll  see shortcomings and holes in your processes. Don’t be discouraged; this is the best part. You’ll be able to improve your processes to serve your team and your clients better, thereby moving your business forward.

We recommend setting aside some time each month to discuss, as a team, what’s going well, what’s going poorly, and what you should do. Book time on your calendar to ensure you follow through. For example, are you missing steps in your projects? Are clients giving you feedback that you could use within your workflows to improve their experience? These are the things that matter as you move forward.

Productivity and Lawyer Time Management 

As a busy attorney with a new law firm, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture or the goals you set for your firm. It’s easy to go with the flow of client meetings and other tasks without considering how they connect to your firm, your career, and your life. To stay the course, you need a personal productivity system.

Personal productivity isn’t the same as case or project management. Instead, personal productivity relates to you personally—what you should work on right now, next week, next month, and beyond. 

Improving your personal productivity is a front-loaded exercise. Yeah, it takes some sweat to get up and running. But, once you’ve invested that work in learning the system, it’ll become second nature, and you’ll wonder how you got anything done without it.

To get started, follow these steps:

  • Set your goals. Write your overarching, big-picture goals for your law firm. Consider what you want to accomplish this quarter, this year, next year, and even ten years from now. Once you have your goals written, consider the next step, or what you’ll need to accomplish first to make each goal happen. Decide which of these goals or actions are immediate priorities.
  • Capture. Capture everything you need to do right now. Email tasks to yourself, grab a legal pad or make a list using an online app. The goal is to get everything out so you can process it. This list includes pressing projects and action steps that move you toward your most important goals identified in the step above.
  • Process. Next, schedule time to process your tasks daily or weekly. This doesn’t mean completing tasks. Instead, process them to your calendar or to-do list, creating time to complete them. Choose whether you need to do it, if you can delegate it to someone else, or if you can defer it to a later date.
  • Make lists. Create a list that includes all of your matters and other projects. On this list, add in upcoming dates, tasks to do now, and tasks to do later. Create another list that includes tasks that aren’t associated with a specific project (e.g., phone calls or follow-ups).
  • Plan. Decide which daily tasks are important to each day and block off time on your calendar accordingly. Always complete these tasks first. At the end of the day, review what tasks are on tap for tomorrow and decide if they are still your top priorities and whether you can outsource something to someone else.

You started your law firm for a reason. However, you can’t reach your goals unless you make time to manage your firm properly. Law office management streamlines processes, improves collaboration, reduces costs, appropriately allocates resources, and keeps your firm moving forward.

Let’s move on to a paperless, and possibly remote, law office.