Over the last decade, I have worked with thousands of lawyers around the world. As you are no doubt aware, the legal profession is highly competitive and those who make it are usually incredibly intelligent.

That is why I’m continually surprised by these simple errors of judgement – all of which are avoidable through simple legal project management (LPM) processes and tools.

In fact, out of all the mistakes I am going to run through below, the worst is writing off thousands of dollars in potential revenue, rather than talking to a client about variations!

I have found that implementing LPM provides the foundation for correct and complete matter scoping that drives accurate scheduling and costing. After these baselines are established, the formal processes of monitoring, controlling and variation management kick in to clearly communicate changes to clients and provide visibility before changes are undertaken.

So what are these 10 mistakes and how can you avoid them?

1. Delivering late

I have met lawyers who deliver late and think it’s ok because the team put in a superhuman effort at the last minute. This is never ok.

The most important thing to your clients is to deliver on their requirements and if they need something by a specified date then they need it then and not a minute later. LPM provides tools to properly plan your matters, providing a framework to allocate resources effectively and juggle your entire portfolio to never miss a milestone or deadline again.

2. Not updating the client until the last moment

If you are going to deliver late, a number of lawyers don’t tell the client until the last minute, afterwards or not at all. As above, this is also never ok.

The lawyers who do this are avoiding a conflict and a difficult interaction, only to have a larger conflict later on or potentially lose the client. If you know this upfront, then it is deceptive not to reveal the true circumstance of the matter – unless you are already planning to use it as a loss leader.

Sufficient scoping and planning upfront using LPM precedents ensures complete transparency and confidence so this never happens again.

3. Agreeing to a timeframe without understanding all deliverables

Unless you can pull off a miracle, you should never agree to a fixed timeframe without identifying and scheduling all the activities. This approach guarantees that you will run late and go over budget.

LPM can create detailed scheduling with all deliverables in the timeframe. This will help you understand resource allocation and schedule your team effectively – and on time!

4. Agreeing to a fixed cost without documenting scope

An experienced lawyer can sometimes pull this off. They will know exactly how long it will take and how much it will cost, but only for simple and often replicated matters.

Their experience compensates for the lack of scoping and planning, but when things don’t go to plan there is no mechanism to provide visibility to the client or discuss variations due to unavoidable external factors.

The outcome is an unhappy client or a write off. Needless to say, LPM helps to avoid this situation by providing short cuts for the scoping, scheduling, costing and variation management of matters.

5. Dismissing other professionals

This stems from the high intellect that is required to become a lawyer. It means concepts are quickly understood, but rarely put into practice.

Much like a professional athlete engaging different coaches, dieticians, strength trainers, psychologists etc., lawyers need to engage experts in everything from marketing, IT, and, of course, project management if they want to achieve amazing results in record time!

6. Overlooking non-legal precedents

The best law firms rely on knowledge management and precedents to ensure their quality of work, but often fail to develop non-legal precedents that will accelerate matter scoping, scheduling and costing. A suite of broad practice management precedents can take you to the next level.

7. Underestimating the importance of leadership

Many partners and senior associates often don’t consider how to best inspire their teams to do their best work.

Adaptive leadership skills, focussing on the strengths of each team member, work best. However to provide a clear plan for success, clear communication and delegation are vital – LPM can provide tools designed to do exactly this, uplifting both individual and team performance.

8. Underestimating regular communication

Communication is critical to success, driving the performance of any team (from legal to architectural) and fostering great working relationships with clients. The disciplines and frameworks of LPM mean that much less bad news needs to be communicated.

9. Assuming their client’s or stakeholder’s needs

The legal challenges of a matter may be completely different to the business challenges.

LPM commences with matter scoping in order to ensure the client’s requirements and expectations are clearly understood. Assumptions and external factors are documented and arrangements put in place for regular status updates and variation management.

10. Confusing long hours with productivity

Research has found the longer someone works without adequate rest then the less productive they are and the more mistakes they make. Working whilst sleep deprived is similar to working whilst intoxicated.

Thorough scoping and planning is a core component of LPM. When done well it provides focus and adequate resources so that long hours are rarely required.

The future of legal project management

LPM is here to stay, yet so many firms and in-house legal teams are struggling to introduce the concept and very few have been able to change ways of working to embed a new approach to legal work. The leading lawyers who are doing it well are delighting their clients, delivering on time and budget, stressing less and achieving a far better work-life balance!

In the words of one of my clients, a Managing Partner “We had an unexpected doubling of volume one January and the lawyers who were using LPM sailed through whilst others burnt themselves out.”

About Therese Linton

Therese is a global leader in the field of Legal Project Management and literally wrote the book – Legal Project Management can be purchased from LexisNexis and Booktopia.

She is uniquely positioned to work with you to develop Legal Project Management skills and breakthrough the learning curve to achieve genuine mastery at rapid pace. You will stand out from the crowd, wow your clients and get your life back. Her approach goes beyond mere training to provide on-going coaching and non-legal precedent development. Contact Therese for a free copy of the Legal Project Management Competency Framework that maps out the basic skills required as a starting point for lawyers in the achievement of legal project management capabilities.