7 components of effective legal matter management

Kara Wen | July 12, 2023 | Articles

When was the last time you breezed effortlessly through a legal matter?

No hang-ups, from start to finish. No repetitive emails or back-and-forth phone calls. No digging for information. No lack of clarity about the time and resources you need.

Everything went off without a hitch, and your team was thrilled.

In a perfect world, every matter would be so easy — but alas, we live in reality. The good news is, effective legal matter management gets you close to that vision.

Effective legal matter management requires creating consistent processes for organizing and accessing your information and sharing it across your team, all while minimizing risk. In order to get to that point, you’ll need to master these seven components of legal matter management to boosts team performance and improve business outcomes.

1. Clear communication and collaboration

We’ve all been there: stuck on an endless chain of back-and-forth emails, or scheduled for one too many preventable meetings to clarify matter updates. Issues like these stem from a lack of clear communication, and it can be frustrating to waste time re-hashing tasks and responsibilities.

But subpar communication at work isn’t just frustrating — it also affects stress levels, workplace trust, and productivity, according to Forbes’ 2023 State of the Workplace Survey.

And when your team isn’t the best at communicating, collaboration suffers, too.

Communication and collaboration are the driving forces behind successful legal matter management. When everyone works together and shares updates across teams, no one is left in the dark about what’s next. Prioritizing communication and collaboration also reduces missed deadlines, limits information silos, and minimizes time-consuming back-and-forths about how (or if) tasks were handled.

And clear communication benefits more than just your team. Keeping your team on the same page is also essential to mitigating risks while managing sensitive information.

Tips to get started:

  • Use centralized communication channels. Whether you use discussion forums, messaging platforms, or a combination of both, make sure everyone knows where to go to join the discussion.

2. Centralized document storage and management

According to the 2023 Workplace Relevance Report by Coveo, workers surveyed report spending 3 hours in an average workday just searching for information.

And when deadlines are looming, the last thing you want to do is waste valuable time searching through your emails to find a legal document (or even digging through a dusty file cabinet). You also don’t want to go down a rabbit hole of research to find out if you have, say, the most recent version of a contract.

To stay efficient, you need a system for keeping all of your documents organized, updated, and accessible. Centralizing your document management means everyone has what they need at their fingertips, right when they need it. Everyone can also view document changes, see who made them, and find out when changes were made.

Tips to get started:

  • Verify that docs are accessible and secure. Use access controls to make sure cloud-based docs are shared safely with the right folks—not just anyone with the link.
  • Keep your system searchable. Filter files by name or matter to prevent a scroll-a-thon every time you need to find a document.
  • Prioritize scalability. Make sure your storage capacity is on par with your needs and that you can adjust it as your requirements change.
  • Follow a single document-sharing process. File-sharing should include version history for all documents and allow you to restrict access to documents.

3. Standardized workflow management

Gartner’s 2023 Legal Technology Predictions Report estimates that by 2026, 40% of legal departments will tap into workflow automation to create an intake system for in-house work.

And for good reason.

With teams handling multiple legal matters simultaneously, it’s not easy to decide what to tackle first. With streamlined and automated workflows, everyone can approach their work with the same process in mind—and workloads become easier to manage.

And standardized workflows don’t just free you up to focus on high-level tasks — they also create a consistent approach to your matters.

Tips to get started:

  • Automate repetitive work. Whenever possible, automate sequential processes (like sending invoices upon matter completion) to keep your work consistent and efficient.

4. Streamlined task management

As you break matters down into individual tasks, it can feel like your to-do list gets longer and longer by the minute. And between tracking deadlines and doling out assignments, if you’re still managing every task manually (maybe via email or Excel spreadsheet), it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks.

Task management moves your team through matter lifecycles effectively and cuts costly financial repercussions of forgotten tasks — including missed deadlines, unhappy stakeholders, and even lawsuits.

Effective task management makes it easier to break down complex projects into bite-sized chunks. You’ll also be able to consolidate tools and automate tasks, reducing time spent in the weeds with repetitive data entry work and allowing you to focus your energy on solving complex issues.

Tips to get started:

  • Rely on how-to templates. Create templates by matter type that break matters down into a predictable series of steps.
  • Use an assignment dashboard. Keep task assignments in one centralized location where everyone can view who’s working on what.
  • Automate basic tasks. When possible, use automation to streamline everyday matter tasks, like creating due dates, sending reminders and notifications, and monitoring deadlines.

5. Enhanced data insights

If you’re like 84% of respondents surveyed in a 2021 CLOC report, data analytics are part of your day-to-day work in legal operations. And the bar for data use in legal ops is getting higher. Often, it isn’t enough to create reports — you need to analyze them, too.

Enhanced data insights enable you to drill down on granular legal matter management data, including matter status, time and dates worked by practice area, and vendor details. Armed with quantifiable details, you can share valuable insights with executives, legal team members, and stakeholders.

With enhanced data insights, you’ll never make matter management decisions in the dark. You can also create data-backed budget projections or learn where you hit snags in key matter management areas — say, risk and compliance.

For example, let’s say you find that you’ve spent 20% more on licensing in the current year in comparison to the last. If your data supports this trend continuing, you can more accurately allocate budget for next year. Furthermore, if you find that your team members are overwhelmed with licensing, you’ll have a stronger case to either hire new in-house team members or outsource work with outside counsel.

Tips to get started:

  • Objectively track performance. Track metrics like recorded hours by matter, matter spends, and top timekeepers to discover where your team is efficient and what matters need improvement.
  • Budget efficiently. Create projections based on previous matters to effectively allocate resources.
  • Create reusable reports. Save go-to reports in just about any area of matter management (including expenses and time records) to make effective choices in real time.

6. Robust risk management and compliance

According to a 2021 survey, 94% of organizations dealt with inside data breaches within the previous year — and human slip-ups were responsible for most of the serious data breaches.

And breaches like these can come from innocuous sources, too — maybe you forget to revoke permissions for an employee after they resign, email a contract to a third party in a time crunch, or don’t stay updated on data privacy rules. All of these scenarios can put you in a vulnerable position with the security of your legal matters.

Working with your IT department and prioritizing risk management and compliance translates to avoiding costly mistakes and focusing on creating the best legal outcomes for each of your matters. Robust security measures will keep even the most sensitive matter information safe and sound.

Tips to get started:

  • Audit your risk management and compliance. Work with your IT department to learn where your biggest areas of risk are and act accordingly.
  • Stay updated on current laws. Regularly check data privacy laws and provide necessary training when you onboard new team members.
  • Know the basics. Know where your data is stored, who has access, if it’s encrypted, and how roles and permissions are set.

7. Detailed time and expense tracking

If you’ve ever worked with manual or outdated time and expense tracking systems, you know it’s a challenge to tame the chaos. It’s tough to see what work has been done and by whom, and matters get bogged down by unnecessary admin work while everyone tries to track down details. Systems like these can ultimately create poor experiences for everyone, including team members, outside counsel, and vendors.

With a detailed time and expense tracking system, on the other hand, you’ll be able to juggle your matters more effectively. With time and expense data, you can determine if your legal ops team is stretched too thin, or reveal if there are any areas your team needs to redirect resources.

Detailed tracking also builds a transparent record of legal work, which protects your team in the event of a dispute. You’ll improve financial outcomes for matters by avoiding lost revenue due to underbilling or missed billing, and careful analysis of time and expenses will drive valuable alignment between legal and finance teams.

Tips to get started:

  • Catch potential spend issues early. Track legal spends and monitor potential problems with detailed spend management reports.
  • Leverage historical data. Use information from previous matters to improve decision-making and budgeting for future matters.
  • Get team alignment on accruals. Keep your teams in the loop on accrual calculation and submission procedures.

Simplify your work with legal technology solutions

There are many ways to build a legal matter management system, but not every option is a good use of your time. On one hand, you could cobble together a few tools to cover basic needs — and this system might work for a while.

But matter management goes haywire when your systems depend on tedious, manual tasks to stay organized, or if your tools can’t “talk” to each other. Piecemeal matter management solutions can also put matter security at risk.

With a dedicated legal solution, your matter details are centralized and in sync, so you never miss an important deadline or lose a document in your emails. Your teams have a go-to place to search documents, securely share information, and collaborate internally across matters, so they consistently do their best work.

SimpleLegal offers just that: With our intuitive, scalable matter management software, you can confidently tackle every component of effective legal matter management in one place.

Want to learn how SimpleLegal can drive positive business outcomes and improve your matter management workflow?

Schedule a demo today