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May 30, 2012

How to improve communication on a small legal team

This guest post was written by Brent Timmons, an associate at Brazeau Seller who completed our Certified Legal Project Manager™ program last week.

B_TimmonsThe team I working on now has two lawyers, two secretaries and a corporate clerk.  It sounds simple to say, but the problem was that before we started focusing on legal project management, we did not consider ourselves a team.  We were a collection of individuals doing the jobs assigned to us.

But, as Eric Verzuh put it in the assigned reading in his Fast Forward MBA in Project Management we needed to understand that the “team has a whole product or service to produce rather than individual components.”  Unless everything fits together -- documents, reports and deliverables –activities may lead to little to no value for the client. 

Simply put, each team member must see each individual task as part of a whole.  This will create more efficiency and value for the client.

Doing the readings for the program helped me to fully recognize my culpability in this situation.  The readings provided some good advice to be a better leader, specifically:

  • Actually spend time building the team

  • Clearly and consistently set out the goals and scope of the project

  • Start regular and short team meetings to talk about goals and responsibilities.

This reading led me to develop this internal team communication plan, which we have started to use and adapt:


With whom


When and How


Responsible Lawyer





Client Lead Lawyer

  • Routine Status Updates

  • Material Developments on events and negotiations

  • Schedule Updates
  • Weekly Status Email

  • Copy Lead Lawyer on material correspondence

  • Save correspondence to electronic files


Responsible Lawyer


Entire Team

  • Weekly Team Meetings

  • Review what has been done and what needs to be done that week

  • Clarify responsibility

  • Post Closing Review meeting
  • In Person


Junior Lawyer




Responsible Lawyer

  • Work in progress updates

  • New issues regarding documents and due diligence
  • Daily verbal report


Law Clerks




Responsible Lawyer and Junior Lawyer

  • Due Diligence Results

  • Document Drafts

  • Search reports

  • Draft closing documents





Responsible Lawyer

  • Administrative Oversight

  • Book meetings and meeting rooms
  • Ensure proper ID

  • Update on budget status

The readings also led me to develop the following client communication planfor the responsible lawyer in a simple purchase transaction:

  • Initial communication calls and meetings leading up to the retainer letter;

  • During negotiation phase, copy client on key communication;

  • Report on delivery of final agreement (phone and email);

  • Weekly email reports on status (budget, accomplished, needs to be accomplished);

  • Due Diligence Report after completion (email, follow up by phone);

  • Confirm in writing waiver of conditions (phone and email);

  • Outline closing procedure at least one week in advance of execution of documents, flow of funds, etc.

  • Meet with client for closing; and

  • Report letter and account within 2 weeks of closing.

The procedures we are developing are continuing to evolve, but some very simple changes have already made a difference in the way we operate, and allowed us to provide greater value to our clients at a lower cost.



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