Legal project management: 7 ways legal ops can level up

Lauren Jennings | October 27, 2022 | Articles

A legal professional’s most valuable currency is time, and in-house departments are searching for ways to maximize that limited resource. Gartner predicts that in-house legal teams will spend three times more on tech solutions by 2025, especially those that automate repetitive tasks that would otherwise eat up staff time. Tasks like document, matter, and invoice management are common time sinks in need of a solution, and legal project management (LPM) software can help.

As its name implies, LPM refers to using project management principles — project planning, risk management, and formal measurement — through a legal lens. This approach helps teams reduce time spent on operational issues and deliver legal services more efficiently, allowing staff to reclaim more of their time to spend on more impactful and complex legal matters.

With software specifically designed for LPM, you can implement effective, time-saving procedures even if you don’t have project management skills. That, in turn, streamlines legal operations for a more efficient team. Here, we’ll unpack seven ways you can use LPM software to support project planning, risk management, and formal measurement.

Improve internal and external relationships with thorough project planning

During the planning phase, you forecast the time, people, and resources needed to complete an upcoming project. Planning is the core purpose of project management — you provide company stakeholders with a detailed estimate of what results they can expect and when they can expect them. Planning is the ideal time to improve your relationships with your clients. LPM software will help you deliver projects on time and improve your communications so your clients and team members feel satisfied with the results.

1. Deliver projects on time

Too often, an underestimated timeline breaks the budget. Legal project planning helps your legal team stay on time and on track with key project milestones and deliverables.

Come up with a repeatable game plan you can use to keep your legal projects on track for timely delivery. A detailed project brief acts as a shared guide that keeps your team informed throughout the project. In your brief, include background information on the project, objectives and goals, key milestones with dates and deliverables, and a final end date. Then refer back to the brief to keep your team on track and to provide progress updates for others in your organization so they know where your project stands.

LPM tools can help streamline your planning process. With the right software, you:

  • Gain access to historical data for accurate predictions of the time needed to complete certain projects or matters
  • Create clean workflows and cut down on time lost to inefficient manual processes
  • Track progress on each matter, creating a single source of truth for matter management

An effective LPM system streamlines tasks at all stages of a matter, saving precious hours and guaranteeing the matter’s timely completion. It also saves time on communication; rather than scheduling meetings to update key stakeholders on a time-sensitive matter, they can access a shared dashboard for the current status.

2. Improve cross-department communication

Legal teams often find themselves working in a silo, distanced from other departments within the same company. Legal project management tools provide a bird’s-eye view into projects that span teams, making it easier to communicate and collaborate effectively with team members from other departments.

For example, SimpleLegal’s Legal Requests tool simplifies legal work requests via a user-friendly form. This encourages inter-departmental collaboration and automates previously complicated processes (like filling out a stack of paperwork for a simple legal review).

Typically, crossing stubborn departmental silos means developing and applying your communication skills to keep in contact with your stakeholders so they know what your department is working on (and vice versa). However, implementing legal project management processes forces regular meetings and status updates. This increases dialogue with other key departments, helping legal departments escape the silo.

LPM software creates a single source of truth so processes are shared. Everyone in your organization who needs access to projects or simple legal matters gets accurate information as they need it.

3. Increase stakeholder satisfaction

Legal project management creates levels of transparency that allow all stakeholders to evaluate how legal matters are handled from an operational as well as a legal standpoint. And it doesn’t hurt that LPM tools that create efficiencies, enhance communication, and lower legal spend make everyone happy.

With LPM tools that track e-Billing and spend management, your finance department can analyze the cost of various projects or determine how much time outside counsel spends on specific matters. These insights can help pros across the company work together to make more informed, collaborative decisions on future initiatives.

Finally, with LPM’s time-saving benefits, legal teams can delight internal and external stakeholders by delivering projects on time and on budget. This increases stakeholder satisfaction and improves relationships across the board.

Manage risk and control legal spend

Precise project management also reduces your company’s exposure to risk and helps you control legal spend.

Depending on your industry, you may have specific steps you need to take to comply with regulations. For example, companies in healthcare need to make sure that their recordkeeping processes comply with HIPAA regulations. But all legal ops teams can mitigate risk through proper management of vendors and outside counsel, and the visibility you get from LPM software keeps costs in check.

4. Manage third-party vendors and outside counsel with precision

Third-party vendor and outside counsel relationships can expose your company to risk. If a third party has access to internal systems, you’ll need to take steps to ensure that your sensitive data, like personal identifying information about your customers, remains secure.

A secure set-up process for each project will mitigate your risk any time you begin working with a new vendor. That could involve setting up limited credentials so vendors don’t have access to your full data, as well as steps for removing that access after a relationship concludes.

Legal project management tools also provide transparency and insights into spending, which help teams better understand and control resources dedicated to external law firms. One of the legal department’s key tasks is managing outside counsel. According to a 2021 Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) benchmarking report, in-house legal’s median spending on outside counsel reached $1.3 million.

Historically, tracking those expenditures and managing accruals is a complex, time-consuming process. LPM tools can simplify outside counsel management by:

  • Automating accruals collection
  • Identifying which firms are billing for which tasks easily
  • Generating reports for fee agreements and discounts with various firms
  • Identifying firms that may be under-performing or billing inappropriately

The same LPM tools that offer more department spend oversight can also cut down on the time your in-house team needs for tedious logistical and managerial tasks, such as manual fee arrangement reporting or invoice review. When they don’t have to navigate outdated systems and manual processes, legal pros can focus on high-impact tasks that require their expertise. This, too, can drive down outside counsel costs and reduce the company’s legal budget.

Formalize measurement with KPIs for each project

Measure key performance indicators (KPIs) to track your progress throughout the project life cycle and conduct a formal evaluation after a project concludes to see how well your team performed. The KPIs you measure will depend on the project, but, for example, tracking spend during an acquisition will help you keep control of your budget during what is typically a very costly process.

Each project will include milestones with specific deliverables attached to each important date. You’ll likely have dependent tasks as well, like needing approval and signatures on a contract before you can move forward with a matter. Keep those dates and dependencies in mind as you progress through each project and check in afterward to determine how well your team adhered to the project timeline.

5. Get visibility into legal spend and control of your budget

Accurate budgeting is a key concern for legal departments. According to a 2021 survey from Bloomberg Law, 69% of in-house legal teams choose legal ops practices based on how well they reduce costs. By understanding where they typically allocate their resources, legal departments can accurately set and adhere to their budgets — saving time, cutting costs, and improving overall company profitability in the process.

A defined legal project management system can help legal teams overcome issues surrounding legal spend and budget control, like inaccurate data, vague invoices, or billing mistakes. Legal project management software that supports spend management gives teams total visibility over their expenses. In turn, they can improve resource allocation and control budgets with precision.

For example, with SimpleLegal’s e-Billing tool, Instacart organized its complicated invoicing process. Instacart created an invoice repository that gave the company visibility into department expenditures. This newfound transparency empowered Instacart to shave 10% off its legal budget.

6. Create more robust reports

To analyze effectiveness and efficiency, your legal team generates multiple reports for use within and beyond your department. Project management reports track the progress of current projects and help you take a retrospective look at projects you’ve completed. They’re important for cross-departmental communication — you can keep other departments updated on the status of your work and inform them how it may affect their day to day.

Reports may include your project brief, team members involved, timeline, risk assessment, and budget. If you’re submitting a retrospective report, you should also include an analysis of how your project went overall. Go over information like:

  • Whether you met your milestones
  • What your final deliverable was
  • Final spend associated with the project and whether any unforeseen issues changed the trajectory or time spent on the matter
  • The impact the rest of your company can expect as a result of the project

Better reporting allows legal ops teams to support their general counsels (GCs) by:

Without the right tools, generating these reports can be time consuming. The process can cause staffing issues, as you may have to pull admin team members away from other tasks so they can gather, organize, and analyze your departmental data. If you don’t have staff on board currently with the skills needed for data analytics, it can also mean additional training to help them develop that competency. However, LPM solutions make a formerly unwieldy process as easy as the click of a button.

For example, by leveraging SimpleLegal’s advanced reporting capabilities, Instacart’s legal team creates reports for its executive team in two to three clicks — a process that had previously taken two to three hours.

7. Manage documents consistently

Documents are a legal team’s lifeblood — which is why effective document management is crucial. Your projects likely have a trove of associated documents that you need to keep track of, like project briefs, contracts, timesheets, invoices, and alternative fee arrangements. Your team needs quick access to those relevant documents at various stages of the project to keep progress moving forward on time.

Effective document management results in more consistent contracting practices, helping lawyers draft comprehensive, error-free documents more quickly. Fast, accurate document creation speeds up your overall operations. Your department spends less time creating individual documents for each contract. With a standard template, each contract you create uses the same format, so all you need to do is fill in the relevant information.

Legal project management tools like SimpleLegal’s Document Management feature help teams organize, update, and share documents quickly and easily. Such a solution has multiple benefits, including:

  • Saving time and reducing errors with standardized templates for document creation
  • Allowing teams to create agile forms
  • Tracking changes in documents with version management

Legal project management empowers your team

Legal process improvement is possible with the right tools. Effective LPM allows your team to stay on top of daily procedures and tackle tasks in the most efficient, organized way possible. Legal ops software reduces the time your team needs to handle administrative duties, allowing them to apply their skills to the business tasks that really matter.

Empower your team with SimpleLegal’s legal project management system and legal project management software. We can help simplify processes for your team so they can handle the important work they’re best at. Schedule a demo today and find out how you can manage your legal ops team in the most efficient way possible.

This article has been updated to reflect new information and industry trends from the original article, published on June 11, 2020.