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I recently attended the LegalTech conference in Atlanta to observe first hand the problems that are keeping lawyers, law firm administrators, and offices of general counsel up at night. Several themes emerged during the day; many involved the need to control project costs.

Many of the problems that face legal teams are the same as the problems that face other project teams. So, what were the takeaway tips that apply to all project teams?

1.  Define Your Scope

In order to manage the project scope, we first must define the scope. What is the project vision? What end goal will make your client happy? What is the management team trying to accomplish? Once scope is defined, ask yourself what the scope does NOT include.

2.  Know What “Done” Means

Use this defined project scope to break your project or legal matter into the essential activities that are needed to accomplish the project objectives. When you define these activities, know what “done” looks like. Are you deposing the owner of the company or the entire executive team? Is that legal brief or training manual that you are producing supposed to be a 30,000-word Microsoft Word document, a 15,000-word Google doc, or a 3,000-word Publisher document? And when you are done, declare victory on that activity and move on.

3.  Identify Quality Requirements With Your Client

Quality was mentioned in several sessions. There is a tendency to believe (particularly in “white shoe” firms) that delivering quality work is a requirement in all situations. But when we listened to sessions that discussed ways to cut costs, clarity about quality was a discussion topic. Which depositions are essential? Should the client undertake a phased eDiscovery or go for broke?

Few clients have a blank check, and delivering the highest quality on each activity may not be the goal. There are times when “good enough” is good enough.

4.  Manage Change

Once scope has been defined, do you have a system for managing change? Who can request changes? How are they evaluated? Who approves change requests? In small projects where you have only one client party, it can be easy to think that anything that the client poses should become a change to the project. That’s a dandy way to run your team ragged, create massive confusion, and run your project costs way out of control.

Since keeping your client happy is a major objective, it is important to help your client understand that the new idea he/she has just outlined represents a change to the project scope, which will likely increase the cost of the project. Having a process in place from the beginning will make this conversation easier, particularly if your client has more great ideas than cash.

5.  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Multiple speakers mentioned the importance of strong communications. The opening panel spent much of the first session talking about the importance of communication and the need to keep clients happy.

From the perspective of the client, the expense of hiring outside counsel is not exactly the first step on a happiness ride, so law firms start at somewhat of a disadvantage.

Whether your client is the general counsel of a large company, the sole proprietor of a small business, or your management team, keeping any client happy requires attention. Suggestions include:

  • Know who your client really is and build a relationship with the key representatives.
  • Understand the end goal that will make your client happy.
  • Understand your client’s business model, value proposition, and pain points.
  • Understand the client’s communication needs – a weekly status report, access to a project dashboard, and/or a monthly phone call, etc.

6.  Document Understandings

Regardless of how much we communicate orally, some things need to be preserved in a searchable, written format. Documenting the scope, activity details, change requests, risks, and all of the other project aspects takes time. Avoid a crisis. Spend time developing clarity and documenting project details.

Avoid a crisis. Spend time developing clarity and documenting project details. Click To Tweet

7.  Think Like a Businessperson

Multiple times during the day, a speaker said that lawyers need to think more like business people. Stories were told about situations where law firms benefited when lawyers donned their business hat, or problems when lawyers didn’t.

If doesn’t really matter what kind of project we are discussing. Think about how to streamline activities and cut costs. Think about how your bills look to your client. Ask yourself what value you have delivered to your client since the last bill went out.

Do any of these suggestions help you? Share your ideas in the comments below. And, sign up for our newsletter below. If you are specifically interested in legal project management, check out our page here.

Photo Credit: AAAARRRGGGHHH; by Evil Erin; CC by 2.0 License;