« How to Improve the Management of Legal Teams (Part 2 of 3) | Main | How to deal with difficult clients and situations (Part 1 of 2) »

July 24, 2019

How to Improve the Management of Legal Teams (Part 3 of 3)

By Jim Hassett and Tim Batdorf

In this final part of our series, we discuss rules #7 through #10 and conclude the discussion of Paul Dinsmore’s “Ten Rules of Team Building” from the AMA Handbook of Project Management (p. 411).

Rule #7: Get the team in shape

Effective leaders do not do all the work; they delegate. They don’t micromanage, and they don’t try to do it all themselves or have others perform tasks exactly as they would.

They apply active listening and communicate regularly with team members. They also focus on unifying the team to work towards shared goals, and they don’t allow egos to get in the way of teamwork. This means learning to deal with conflict more effectively, whether it is between two members or between the leader and someone else. It all comes back to listening.

In some cases, it may be useful to formally coach junior team members at the outset. Ask them where they feel they need training. Compare the skills your team has with the skills they need to become more efficient.

If the learning curve looks steep and the team is working on large matters, you might even consider formal training programs. In large firms, the professional development department can provide quick guidance on what is available and what has worked for other lawyers in the past.

Rule #8: Motivate the players

Rule #1 was to identify what drives your team: the inherent intellectual challenge of legal matters, the relationships and collaboration, competitiveness, or the simple need to pile up billable hours.

Of course, the answer is likely to be all of the above and more, and in different proportions for different people. On large matters, your job as a leader is to develop a sense of what motivates each key individual and then to incorporate these motivators into your feedback and interactions with team members.

Make sure key team members understand the deliverables in the SOW, and then give them ownership of the process. Let them tell you how to meet your goals, on time and within budget.

Motivating some team members may be as simple as recognizing and praising their accomplishments.

If you expect the best from your team, you are more likely to get it.

Rule #9: Develop plans

Lawyers are good at convincing clients to invest time and money in planning. Clients are told to plan their taxes, plan their estates, and plan the best way to structure their contracts.

But when a new matter begins, many lawyers would rather jump right in than step back and plan their approach. Jumping right in can be a great way to be inefficient, and the traditional billable hour model rewards inefficiency.

However, as one consultant put it, “Being too busy to plan is a lot like running alongside your bicycle because you are too busy to get on.” Now that clients are pressuring legal counsel to become more efficient, there is a new emphasis on developing a plan before beginning a matter.

Planning starts with a solid SOW so that it is clear that the client and the lawyer agree on what is to be done. Then the lawyer in charge can map out the necessary tasks and assign them to different team members, using the Matter planning template in this Guide or other tools.

Better yet, don’t just create a plan by yourself. Get your team so involved in the project and decision making that they say, “This is our plan.”

Rule #10: Control, evaluate, and improve

When many people start managing projects, the biggest mistake they make is to trust their staff too much. “I hired extremely talented people,” they reason, “so they will figure things out.”

Most learn the hard way that effective managers control the work process, evaluate the results, and use the results to improve performance. This can be valuable even if a project is so small that you are working alone. But when you work on projects with large teams, “control, evaluate, and improve” is absolutely vital.

If you want to rely on software for this, our opinion is that the best software solution is the one you already own and know how to use. Whether your team uses Outlook or something else, it’s worth learning about the features that can help you manage your team, including email groups, meeting invitations and scheduling, and creating and tracking team “To Do” lists.

Tracking the budget is especially important these days, and we often hear about how law firm accounting systems are becoming more sophisticated in their ability to support periodic work-in-progress updates. How often do you need these updates? The answer varies from one matter to another. Many firms seem to be headed toward real-time reporting and requiring lawyers to update their time records daily.

Finally, at the end of each important matter, it is vital to conduct some sort of “lessons learned” review. Poll your team members on what they thought worked well and what they thought needed improvement. However, ultimately, there is only one results assessment that counts, and that comes from the client. So you need to make sure that you have an accurate reading from the client as close to the end of the matter as possible.

In the good old days when clients rarely complained about the efficiency of legal teams and hourly rates went up every year, it was not necessary to think about better ways to manage legal teams. Now it is.

This blog series was adapted from the fifth edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, a frequently updated online library of LPM tools and templates.

Comments

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.