Managing a legal project

Stella Petersen

Head of Legal Operations

I remember my first legal project vividly.

A multinational company was planning a restructuring that would impact its subsidiaries located in 50+ jurisdictions. The mission was to carry out the relevant consultation processes with employee representatives in each country.

As a young law graduate, I had no experience in project management and handled the whole thing with sheets of paper I would tape on my desk and color coding each country’s status.

Things have come a long way since that project. After hours spent leading different projects and a certification as Project Management Professional by the Project Management Institute, I can safely say my methods have changed drastically.

For the megaprojects we tackle at Kalexius, we use a dedicated project management software and follow the PMI method to a T. It would take much more than a blog post to summarize those projects management processes.

But there are three simple steps anyone can follow for simpler projects. Here is my advice for a project management novice getting started on a basic legal project.

#1 - Don't jump the gun; planning is key!

If you remember just one thing from this article, let it be this; you can never spend too much time planning a project before it starts.

Most project managers – even experienced ones –spend too little time on this. The temptation, or pressure, to just get the ball rolling is too great. The consequence is that you will run into all kinds of trouble during the project because you did not factor in some important consideration in the beginning. Here are some real-life examples:

  • In a contract review project, fail to factor in time needed to translate some foreign language contracts;
  • In a legal research project, fail to factor in the necessity to have a specific version of Windows to run a software;
  • In any project – fail to factor in public holidays in different countries and that project team members might take time off.

So how do you plan? The easiest method, enough to manage a small project, is listing everything that needs to be done to get the project done, down to the smallest detail you can think of. To make this task less daunting, proceed in stages: first break your project down to 2-3 big items, then start breaking down each item to smaller ones.

Let’s say you are managing a GDPR remediation project. This is what your breakdown could look like:

Now that you have a clear idea of the main work items, you can start more detailed task lists. For example, for “assess need to appoint DPO”, you can probably think of a couple of action items required to get it done.

#2 - Stay on top of everything

Assuming your project is broken down into smaller chunks of work, you can create a board to show progress on each item, and who is working on it. There are more or less sophisticated ways of showing that board. There are plenty of options available ranging from a simple Excel file or whiteboard to expensive project management software. Most of the time, legal projects don’t require any fancy software and it is can even be counterproductive to introduce a bulky software that requires complex training to even understand. You can download a project progress board here.

#3 - Communicate

As Project Manager, your job is to consolidate all information about the project’s progress in one place and to make sure that information is shared between all team members. Regular project meetings with other project members will ensure that potential issues are identified, shared and dealt with in a timely manner.

Regular communication on your project will also ensure it stays alive. I like to plan a recurring project meeting; I hold it consistently – even if sometimes the meeting doesn’t last more than five minutes! Another way to keep your project alive and give it cadence is a regular project update. Keep it short – a few sentences and an image of your project board (see above) is enough. Set yourself a reminder to send the project update at the same time every week/month.

 

Good luck!

 

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