Here's what's trending in the legal industry: (1) law firm mergers continue, (2) dissatisfaction of women in law firms, (3) blockchain and lawyers, (4) automating legal work, and more!
Legal project management is the application of project management concepts to the control and management of legal cases or transactional matters. These principles have been used by multiple other professional service providers for many years. For decades, lawyers have loosely sketched out plans for matters but rarely put together detailed plans for end-to-end delivery of legal service on matters. As corporate clients have adopted project management to most, if not all, of their internal projects they are increasingly demanding legal project management from their law departments and external legal service providers.
Quite simply, legal project management is the formal and deliberate integration of planning, budgeting, and communication. It results in transparency for both the client and the legal service provider from the outset of the legal matter. Communication between and expectations of both parties is clear and written down in the Project Plan.
The typical Project Plan will be agreed to between the parties and will contain:
1. Summary of the Project
2. Goals of the Project
3. Scope of the Project
4. Out of Scope - As can often happen on legal matters out of scope tasks can be undertaken either because the client requests it or the legal service providers in their quest to provide a thorough analysis or work product think certain tasks should be undertaken.
5. Key Assumptions - These are assumptions the parties made when putting together the plan. Things could change in the future and those could impact the deliverables, the timeline, the staffing, or even the scope. But this is a great example of how expectations are managed at the outset.
6. Risks - what are possible obstacles to accomplishing the Project Goals?
7. Deliverables - what is the legal service provider going to deliver?
8. Timeline - what are the key dates for deliverables and communications/updates?
9. Participants - Resource Planning. Who are all of the people necessary to accomplish the Project Goals? How often are they needed? Who will manage the project? Who will do the work for each task? Who will be consulted and who will be informed?
10. Costs - Here's where the planning and assumptions of the above help legal service providers arrive at the costs of the project. It could be fixed fee. It could be part fixed fee and part hourly rate. It could be just hourly rates.
Legal project management is a great tool to deliver efficient legal services and it will only continue to grow as more corporate clients demand it and more legal service providers understand and see the value it provides to their clients.
Legal project management can appear to be a daunting task at the outset of a legal matter but don't OVERTHINK it. You can keep it simple as you try it out and improve upon your own process as you apply these concepts to additional matters.
Here are the 4 reasons why legal project management works:
1. Improved communication, transparency and, ultimately, trust between the parties. This all leads to improved client satisfaction.
2. Better expectation management - fewer surprises (hopefully, none!)
3. Cost certainty and cost containment for law departments. The transparent process allows for significant improvement in budgeting for legal costs.
4. Profitable fixed cost legal services for law firms. The more frequently legal project management is used by law firms the easier and easier it becomes for law firms to profitability price their legal services with precision. Fewer write-offs, better staffing and knowledge management to perform the work repeatedly with less effort.
Law departments are increasingly expected to be business partners, collaborating with executives and other functional experts to drive results. Often times, the legal function struggles (or doesn't know where to begin) to develop metrics and data to provide business related legal intelligence to its business partners. One of the quick ways for law departments to provide valuable data to its business partners is to implement a Contract Management System, whether licensing it directly or working with a service provider that uses one currently.
The legal world has been slow to embrace technology to help solve business problems. For example, the contract. Even some of the most sophisticated organizations are still creating and working with contracts in Microsoft Word. Sometimes using an agreement from the last deal that has specific negotiated provisions for that last deal that have nothing to do with the current one. Email remains the primary means of delivery and sometimes...even storage of the contract. See "The Future of Legal Work" by Constantine Limberakis of Corporate Counsel.
Great! Let's go get a Contract Management System!
If only it were that easy. There are no shortage of Contract Management System or Contract Lifecycle Management System providers. Each solution comes with its positives and negatives. Some charge you for storage. Some charge per user. Some charge for you to invite third party collaborators to use the system (such as the other party to the contract). Some charge by number of contracts. It's difficult to do an apples to apples comparison.
And while there are all of those (and many more) issues to review and identify, you also need to know what is the current end-to-end process internally for initiating, drafting, negotiating, executing, storing and analyzing contracts. Who touches these contracts in one way or another? Who will want access later? What other information systems are currently being used and will your functional business partners (HR, Finance, Business Development, Operations, etc.) want to pull data from the Contract Management System into the systems that they use?
7 Key Contract Management System Features
With all of that said, here are 7 features that should be a part of any Contract Management System you select:
1. Multiparty Collaboration - You want a system that allows the other party to the contract to access the contract you're negotiating within your system. You also may want access for advisors like lawyers and accountants.
2. Electronic Signature - Why go to all this effort if the contracts can't be signed electronically within the system? You might as well go back to faxing.
3. Workflow Management - An excellent feature that provides transparency about where the real bottlenecks in the process are.
4. Contract Compliance - Can you audit who made what changes and when? Also great for enforcement of terms.
5. Contract Storage - Get away from shared drives, external hard drives and your email inbox for contract storage. There's nothing worse than the scramble to find "anyone that has a copy of that contract from 5 years ago" and it's a random redline that someone found lingering in their email inbox. The accessibility for all users is also great.
6. Analytics and Data - Want to know how long it takes your form supply agreement to get negotiated and signed on average? Most Contract Management systems will arm you with that data. Identify what data you'd like to have and use that to weed out some of the providers that are unable to deliver.
7. Integrations - Any Contract Management System that you are considering should integrate easily (at no additional cost) with systems like Oracle, SAP, or Salesforce. You should work with your Information Technology team to identify what other systems you might want your Contract Management System to integrate with.
The right Contract Management System can streamline legal operations significantly, standardize the contract process, and arm the legal team with useful legal business intelligence to share with its functional business partners.