Project Management Skills for Lawyers – It’s like Juggling!

English: A fire helicopter N20PF with a helico...

Lawyer in the helicopter with a juggling ball!

Lawyers are bright. They get the easy stuff quickly. So when I ask them who are the stakeholder groups they need to focus on when managing matters, they correctly identify the top three:

  • Clients
  • The firm itself
  • Team members

Incidentally, the team members invariably get mentioned last!

Then I ask them what each of these stakeholder groups typically are looking for from the matter manager. Associates can pretty easily produce a good list:

  • Clients want a good piece of work done that is good value. They also want to know what’s going on and appreciate the external counsel making them look good and relieving them of stress and hassles
  • The firm would like the matter manager to deliver a product that delights the client to the extent that more profitable work accrues. The firm also wants the reputation of the firm to be considered – so no dodgy deals!
  • The team members primarily want to learn and to feel a sense of recognition and achievement. If there’s any fun and enjoyment to be had, that’ll be good as well. Oh, and fewer last minute changes to their personal lives and fewer weekends in the office

At this stage I get my juggling balls out. Seriously, I do! I demonstrate that it’s hard keeping three balls in the air and it’s easy to drop one. The associates admit this and confess they usually drop the team one! Poor juniors!

Then I ask associates to produce a checklist of what an effective matter manager would do at the start, during and at the end of a matter. They produce this with ease. They might miss a couple of things, such as adding to the knowhow database at the end of the matter, but bearing in mind that I give them only 10 minutes or so, they produce a good list.

Then I ask them why they don’t use such a checklist in real life. There’s usually a longish silence before we finally uncover that it’s primarily because they get so subsumed into the tasks of the matter (eg negotiating at meetings, drafting documents etc) that the process of managing a matter goes out of the window! Plus the tasks are more fun!

This is where the helicopter comes in. I suggest to the associates that they might become better matter managers if they diarise some time to get into their metaphorical helicopter and look at the bigger picture. Some useful matter managing questions to pose from time to time:

  • How might the client be feeling? Are they happy with progress?
  • What anxieties might the client have and how can these be assuaged?
  • How are the fees mounting up compared to the budget?
  • Are there any risks to the firm which need mitigating?
  • How are the team members? Motivated? Supported enough? Challenged enough?

So, if it was my firm I’d send associates on a juggling course and give them a toy helicopter to put on their desks!

For more on this topic see:

And if you’re interested in a one page matter management checklist let me know.

This entry was posted in Leadership and Management, Strategy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Project Management Skills for Lawyers – It’s like Juggling!

  1. Pingback: Why Managing Matters is a Serious Matter | Tony Reiss

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