In today’s changing legal landscape, businesses and private individuals are demanding greater service delivered in a more transparent and efficient way. Integral to this concept is the fact that clients also want services for less.  In order to meet the needs of clients, today’s attorney must have a basic understanding of project management skills and be able to deliver legal services on a budget and in a timely fashion.

What exactly is project management?

Project management is the process of applying matter management techniques to better serve clients. It is a business approach to legal services to give clients clear expectations of time, cost, and results. It does not necessarily commoditize legal services, but it does seek to categorize and streamline delivery. In essence, project management means transparently identifying needs and tasks, setting a budget, and monitoring progress toward an end goal. At the end of a project, the project manager assesses the firm’s performance in order to development patterns and areas of improvement.

Who handles project management?

Project management can be carried out by the attorney assigned to a matter or by a designated project manager. Think of this person as a general contractor on a large construction site who keeps the other subcontractors on schedule and the project on track. Many large firms now employ project managers (some who are attorneys by training, some who are not) to quantify legal services and provide estimates to clients. These project managers also ensure benchmarks are met. In other words, they keep the ship on course.

Although the designated project manager is responsible for steering the matter, successful project management requires buy-in from all the stakeholders, including attorneys, legal staff, auxiliary actors, and clients. Attorneys and staff should use designated billing codes and procedures. Clients should participate and communicate in accordance with the agreed upon plan.

What’s in it for law firms?

In order to stay competitive, firms must adapt. While billed hours went unquestioned for generations, many clients now expect transparency and efficiency. By embracing project management, firms can get the attention of clients who appreciate a business-like approach and perhaps win the business over other firms who refuse to adapt. Many firms also find that it’s easier to justify hefty fees when billed time is clearly described and accounted for.

Project management can also help firms identify wasted time and energy. By accomplishing tasks quickly and reducing wasted motion, firms are able to apply the skills of highly trained practitioners to more important tasks. Eliminating waste can ultimately help firms improve their bottom line and reduce fee disagreements. Top-notch project management technology may also help attract young attorneys and law students who have grown up around computers.

What does project management entail?

Project management involves a myriad of techniques and skills to provide high-quality legal services to clients. While flat fee billing is not necessarily required, it is often incorporated to help clients control costs. At the very least, clear budgets should be provided to clients. Project managers also develop matter plans that clearly set out goals, a timeline, the stakeholders, incentives, lines of communication, and the scope of work. A clearly written plan helps attorneys better understand the big picture needs of the client. Clients also greatly appreciate the firm removing the veil from legal services.

Project management also involves embracing technology to provide ever-increasing efficiency. This may entail a centralized task list, file storage and file management, and tools for collaboration. Firms should embrace new legal management technology that helps categorize services by task codes. While many attorneys are reluctant to embrace task codes, they are an important part of providing transparent services, and many clients now demand them.

What clients can benefit from project management?

Simply put, all clients can benefit from their attorney using project management techniques. However, for clients with large or complicated problems or projects, project management is a necessity. Project management is appreciated by large and small businesses, as it reflects the business mentality. 


The son of a judicial assistant for a district court judge, Morris Lilienthal grew up around the courthouse and quickly developed a passion for the law. He is a 2003 graduate of Cumberland School of Law and now is a shareholder with Martinson and Beason, P.C. An avid sports fan, Morris enjoys playing and watching sports when not practicing law.