How to improve the management of legal teams (Part 4 of 4)

How to improve the management of legal teams (Part 4 of 4)

Rule # 8:  Motivate the players

"Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results." George S. Patton

Rule #1 in this series 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, 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 statement of work, 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

"Failing to plan is planning to fail." - proverb

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 statement of work, so 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.  Our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide includes a form called the Matter Planning Template.  I have to admit that I have been a bit surprised by its popularity. The truth is it's just a simple form for breaking a matter into subtasks, and then assigning people, timelines, and budgets to each.  But many lawyers we work with have reported that using this form to structure simple planning steps can make a big difference.

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

"As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." - Bill Gates

When I first started managing projects, the biggest mistake I made was trusting people too much.  I had hired extremely talented people, I reasoned, to they would figure things out.

I learned 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 Office Outlook, Lotus Notes, Groupwise, or something else, it's worth learning about the features that can help you manage your team, including e-mail 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 firms 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.  Our Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide includes a number of tools and templates to help conduct these reviews more efficiently.

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

Read more on the Legal Business Development Blog.