Legal Matter Planning = Legal Project Management

Leading the Business of Law - ALA Legal Management - Nov Dec 2015

Your senior partner’s cellphone rings; the caller ID displays the phone number of the firm’s largest corporate client. The general counsel has a sticky matter involving many parties.

She needs work to begin immediately, as the transaction needs to close within a month’s time. Millions of dollars are at stake, and delays will be costly and bad for the general counsel’s reputation. She wants a budget for the legal services pronto and a flat-fee arrangement. Having closed a number of these types of transactions, the general counsel has a very good idea of what prior costs have been. Closing this transaction on time and below budget will mean that the general counsel and her legal department will enjoy very nice bonuses; the contrary will not.

Your partner walks into your office. She needs historical data on these types of transactions, both what the firm has charged for them as well as what they have cost the firm. She needs lots of timekeepers to start billing on this matter immediately. She needs people to handle due diligence. She needs 1,000 contracts reviewed and compared within the month — research conducted, documents drafted and governmental records obtained from all 50 states.


Can you convince the partner that the first steps are to begin planning … not billing?

Would you know the right questions to ask to help organize the work that needs to be done, to collect the needed information from the client as to their desired outcomes? Can you work with your partner to help her break down the work into major phases and then to outline the tasks that need to be completed for each phase? And remind her that a budget has to be prepared for the client and incorporated into your engagement letter, along with the scoping of the project?

“Jump to planning … not billing!”

Since the client hired the firm for its expertise in handling these types of transactions, suggesting that the firm does not have enough information from which to develop a detailed budget and to determine a flat fee for the work may suggest there isn’t as much expertise at the firm as needed. But you know to emphasize to your partner how important communications with the general counsel will be as your timekeepers progress through the various phases of completing the legal services. You know that the firm’s client is a key stakeholder in the transaction. However, can you help your partner identify the other stakeholders?

Of course, you will want to help your partner identify all of the possible risks or impediments to the transaction in order to properly plan for and communicate about them. Should any of the phases, such as due diligence, go to legal process outsourcing? Does the firm have adequate timekeepers (including staff attorneys, counsel, paralegals and other specialists) and legal assistants to produce the work needed within the required timeline? Who will make assignments and manage the team? Can initial versions of all the various documents needed for the transaction be generated from your knowledge management system?


Phew. Are you exhausted yet? Using the various elements of legal project management can help your partner and the firm accomplish the client’s goal in the most efficient and timely manner. An organized, scheduled and monitored process can help everyone involved sleep easier at night. You can — and should — know how to help your partner work through this process.

Not comfortable that you can? Be in Los Angeles at our 2016 Annual Conference & Expo on Monday, May 23, for this year’s Advanced Profitability Track: A Deep Dive into Legal Pricing, Projects and Processes. This educational series will help you understand many of the aspects of legal project management and start you on your way to being able to assist your partners with situations like this and many more.


2015-2016 ALA President
Chief Operating Officer
Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP
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