Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Project Management

Jul 18, 2011


Law Firm Management Projects & Implementation

Question: 

I am the managing partner of a 35 attorney firm in Washington D.C. Governance consists of the full partnership on some management matters, myself at the next level, and a firm administrator. The administrator and I meet regularly to review accomplishments – but it seems like initiatives take forever to get implemented or never get implemented at all. Some are initiatives on my plate and some are initiatives on the administrator's plate. What are your thoughts?

Response: 

I assume that you are a part time managing partner and that you are also servicing clients full time as well. It it difficult serving two masters – the firm (non-billable time) and your clients (billable time). Firm management issues always seems to take a back seat to client priorities. To do otherwise requires that you be very focused and effective time manager. You must balance both balls at the same time. Your administrator has a similar problem. His or her priorities are often focused on day-to-day operations management and there never seems to be time – especially large chunks of time – for long term projects. Law firms have a hard time getting long term initiatives or projects such as the following implemented:

  1. Firm strategic plan
  2. Partnership agreement
  3. New partner compensation system
  4. Case management system
  5. Website
  6. Employee handbook
  7. Standard Operating Procedures Manual (SOP)

A starting point is to recognize that managing long term projects such as those listed above requires a different approach and tools than does day-to-day operations management. Projects involve all the work that is done one time and ongoing operations represents the work we perform over and over. Every project has a beginning and an end. They unique and temporary. Work that is unique and temporary – projects – requires different management disciplines.  

Successful projects are those that:

  1. Schedule – Are completed on time according to a schedule or timeline
  2. Cost – Are on budget
  3. Quality – High quality – meet expectations

Suggest that you and your administrator read up on project managment and try to apply some of the concepts to your longer range projects. A good book on the topic is "The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management", by Eric Verzuh, available at Amazon.com in book or e-book format. Another good book is "Legal Project Management: Control Costs, Meet Schedules, Manage Risks and Maintain Sanity", by Steven B. Levy, available at Amazon.com in book form. You may also want to consider using an online project management system such as Basecamp or Teamwork We use secure onling project management software to manage all of our projects and provide client access to their projects on the portal.

Your long term initiatives must be managed as projects and managed differently than ongoing operations. 

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Jun 21, 2011


Using Effective Firm Meetings to Improve Accountability and Boost Productivity

Question:

Our firm used to have weekly firm meetings to discuss management and operational issues. We discontinued them due to the excessive time being spent and questionable results and value. Now we are finding that we are totally unfocused and having problems with poor accountability and things falling through the cracks.  We are now considering starting up weekly meetings again but want to insure that we do a better job of managing meetings than we did in the past. What are your thoughts?

Response:

Before scheduling a meeting consider the purpose of the meeting. In general there are the following four types of meetings:

  1. Strategy Meetings are rich group discussions involving strategy and planning sessions, brainstorming, group budgeting, marketing, or financial planning. These meetings are effective when everyone understands the purpose and the ground rules.
  2. Reporting Meetings consist of one person informing the others in the room and sharing of information. These meetings are valuable only if the news is meaningful to most of the attendees. There may be Q&A and discussion, and different people may report out during the same meeting. These meetings should be structured.
  3. Status Meetings are often low in value and you should keep them sort. Attorneys and other team members need to share information and brief sessions are effective at keeping the team on the same page. Consider stand-up meetings – where literally, everyone is standing. It keeps the meetings short. Require agendas.
  4. Dilemma or Issue Meetings where just a few of the participants engage in detailed problem solving, are inefficient. Don't drag the whole group into dilemma or issue meetings. If your meeting is headed this direction deflect it for one-on-one time.

Meetings work best when they have:

  1. An agenda – for reporting and status meetings.
  2. A meeting chair or facilitator – who helps the attendees stick to the agenda.
  3. Meeting minutes – listing decisions, action items, and due dates – sent to all participants shortly after the meeting.
  4. Ground rules – especially for strategy meetings.

Take charge of meetings. Unmanaged meetings are time wasters.

You might want to start with short weekly status meetings using the format outlined above. Conduct reporting meetings on a monthly basis and strategy meetings on a quarterly basis or annual using a off-site retreat format.

Start slow and go from there. Push for accountability and results.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Jun 07, 2011


Implementing Law Firm Strategic Plans: Accountability and Follow-Thru

Question:

Our firm is a 25 attorney business litigation boutique firm in Southern California. I am a partner in the firm and chair of the firm's long range planning committee. Last year we spent a lot of time putting together a strategic plan for the firm. While we have a nice plan including specific action items - we are having problems with implementation. We are stuck and not getting anything done. What are your thoughts?

Response:

This is a common problem. Even in corporate america the implementation rate is low.

Many law firms experience similar results. They spend time and energy on mission, vision, goals, objectives and strategies but run out of gas when it comes to specific action planning outlining tasks, milestones and deadlines, individual specific accountabilities, and resource requirements. You just can't cut this step short. All strategic plans should include action plans that list under each strategy specific tasks with milestones, deadlines/due dates, name of person(s) responsible, and required resources. Consequences, compensation, etc. should be tied to task accomplishment or non-accomplishment.

I suggest that the strategic action plan for the firm be considered a project and incorporate:

  1. A project definition (charter)
  2. A project plan
  3. A project control system including progress measurement, communication, and correction action.

Status should be reviewed at committee meetings on a monthly basis and at firm meetings on a quarterly basis.

Often we suggest that Excel be used for the action plan segment of the strategic plan with columns for strategies and tasks and sub-tasks, person responsible for task accomplishment, start date, due date, date completed, completed by, and resources required.

In larger firms or for more complex action plans with multiple people responsible we suggest that an online project management system be used to manage the action plan. Many of our clients use either www.teamworkpm.net or www.basecamp.com. Some firms have practice management system capable of performing project management functions.

Click here for our blog on strategy

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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