Legal project management: the process explained

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Legal project management (LPM) is a quickly growing field in the legal sector, as it can help professionals improve the outcomes of projects through the application of project management techniques. Professionals use it to apply tools and techniques to the various processes involved in the provision of legal services, which improves the efficiency of resource utilisation and produces better deliverables. Knowing more about LPM and its tools can help you implement it within an organisation and improve the way you complete projects. In this article, we define LPM, explore its components and tools and discuss its importance.

What is legal project management?

Legal project management borrows the tools, techniques, knowledge and methods from traditional project management and applies them to law projects, particularly service delivery. It uses principles and activities from project management to enhance the provision of legal services by optimising various factors. Legal project managers aim to create a balance between the elements of the 'iron triangle', which represent time, cost and resources. They use another triangle to represent the balance among risk, scope and quality. Using these tools, professionals can plan projects with strict quality parameters and define deliverables at the outset.

Related: What are project management tools (with 15 examples)

Legal project management process

The following are the four main parts to the LPM process:

Project initiation

The first step is to define the desirable outcomes of the project, as this provides structure and a clear objective. Professionals then collect as much information as possible from the client to properly understand the legal issues and the client's expectations. Legal project managers then determine whether they have the capabilities to handle the issue, and if they do, they calculate the time and cost they may incur, which helps them decide how to price the services. If the client is happy to proceed, the manager assigns the case to an in-house solicitor.

Project planning

During this part of the process, legal project managers separate the job into various phases with smaller tasks and develop a timeline for the project. They then select appropriate tools and create detailed documents that define the phases more thoroughly. Once they have a clear overview of the project, they segregate tasks into three difficulty levels—easy, moderate and hard. Managers then create a schedule detailing when legal staff are to complete each stage, typically by using a Gantt Chart or something similar. After the client signs off on the plan, the project manager assigns work to the project team.

Project execution

While the project team works on the delivery of the project, the project manager controls the scope, resource expenditure, timing and outcome. They design and distribute project progress reports to stakeholders, which typically include the name of the project and the project manager, a list of tasks to complete and a summary of achieved milestones. The project manager sorts tasks into a priority list based on the traffic light system, with green signifying that activities are progressing as planned, amber suggesting difficulties that are under control and red signalling a need for immediate attention.

The execution stage involves kick-off meetings, which ensure team members understand their responsibilities, and regular status report meetings to help staff learn from mistakes. In these meetings, managers also discuss success indicators, such as expenditure levels, to ensure the project remains within the pre-defined parameters. Project staff complete all the necessary activities needed to deliver the service to the client during this phase of the process.

Related: 8 types of project deliverables (definitions and examples)

Project closure

This stage involves finalising the project and ensuring the client is happy with all deliverables. This means checking in with the client so they can verify the services align with their initial brief and sign off on the work. The project staff and the manager then analyse the project to determine how well the team performed and whether the project stayed on budget. One important aspect of project closure is identifying any issues that hindered the progress of the project so managers and staff can eliminate them for the next project.

Managers also spend time considering any important lessons the current project has taught and how they may utilise these in new projects. They may ask for a review from the client to gain a deep understanding of their satisfaction level, and any suggestions the customer provides on how to improve can inform future projects.

Legal project management tools

There are various kinds of software, methods and tools that are useful for enhancing LPM. Here are some of the tools available for this purpose:

Project charter

This is a document that provides an overview of a project and contains various pieces of important information. A project charter includes a description of the project, names of the team members and project manager, objectives, project scope, risks, timelines and deliverables. A charter formally documents that a project exists and what it entails, and professionals distribute it to stakeholders and relevant staff.

Related: 13 milestones in project management (with definitions)

Project plan

This is the primary document for managing the project, and professionals often call it a master document. It describes the scope, schedule, milestones, cost estimates and responsibilities of staff in detail to ensure all relevant individuals understand the requirements. Legal project managers call the project plan a 'living document' because they continually update it to show progress as a percentage.

Related: What are the different project management certifications?

Communication plan

This document outlines how staff and managers can communicate during the project, whether over the phone or via email. It also explains how often communication may take place, as there may be daily or weekly meetings depending on the requirements of the project. The communication plan also makes clear the goals of each meeting and who is responsible for arranging meetings and tracking communications.

Gantt Chart

A Gantt Chart is a visual representation of a project schedule that also shows the status of schedules in terms of how near they are to completion. Each segment of the chart represents an activity or task and has a bar scale next to it that contains the start date, the duration and the end date of the activity or task. These charts help professionals organise projects, allocate resources and plan their time, and they also show dependencies between tasks.

Related: 10 useful project charts to use in project management

RACI diagram

These diagrams help people understand their roles and responsibilities during projects. They help managers assign tasks to staff and provide a visual way to ensure they assign all tasks. RACI is an acronym that stands for the following:

  • Responsible: The person or people completing the task are responsible for its success, failure or general quality.

  • Accountable: The individual in charge of a task is the one who is answerable for its success, failure or general quality.

  • Consulted: These are people who have given their input on projects.

  • Informed: These are recipients of one-way communications who the project manager keeps informed about the progress of projects.

Related: 10 great jobs in project management and their salaries

Task management tools

These are applications that provide simplified ways for legal project managers to track time, manage documents, assign tasks and communicate with each other. Time management tools differ from each other in terms of their exact features, so it's important to choose one that's right for your project. Examples of popular task management tools include Trello, Slack and Microsoft Task Planner.

Related: Project manager requirements (with duties and skills)

Status report

These are reports that legal project managers create periodically over the course of projects to offer insights into their progress. Status reports enable managers to communicate key information to project staff, as they reveal what's going right and wrong and give staff the chance to improve. They're also necessary for keeping stakeholders informed of what's happening on the project, such as whether it's on track to meet objectives or if it's likely to deviate from key parameters, like budgetary restrictions.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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