The Bar News

Best Practice: Law firm management projects & implementation

Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am the managing partner of a 35 attorney firm in Washington D.C. Governance consists of the full partnership on some management matters, myself at the next level, and a firm administrator. The administrator and I meet regularly to review accomplishments - but it seems like initiatives take forever to get implemented or never get implemented at all. Some are initiatives on my plate and some are initiatives on the administrator's plate. What are your thoughts?

A. I assume that you are a part time managing partner and that you are also servicing clients full time as well. It is difficult serving two masters - the firm (non-billable time) and your clients (billable time). Firm management issues always seem to take a back seat to client priorities. To do otherwise requires that you be very focused and effective time manager. You must balance both balls at the same time. Your administrator has a similar problem. His or her priorities are often focused on day-to-day operations management and there never seems to be time - especially large chunks of time - for long-term projects. Law firms have a hard time getting long term initiatives or projects such as the following implemented:

  1. Firm strategic plan
  2. Partnership agreement
  3. New partner compensation system
  4. Case management system
  5. Website
  6. Employee handbook
  7. Standard Operating Procedures Manual (SOP)

A starting point is to recognize that managing long term projects such as those listed above requires a different approach and tools than day-to-day operations management. Projects involve all the work that is done one time and ongoing operations represents the work we perform over and over. Every project has a beginning and an end. They are unique and temporary. Work that is unique and temporary - projects - requires different management disciplines. Successful projects are those that:

  1. Schedule - Are completed on time according to a schedule or timeline
  2. Cost - Are on budget
  3. Quality - High quality - meet expectations

You and your administrator need to read up on project management and try to apply some of the concepts to your longer range projects. A good book on the topic is "The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management", by Eric Verzuh, available at Amazon.com in book or e-book format. Another good book is "Legal Project Management: Control Costs, Meet Schedules, Manage Risks and Maintain Sanity", by Steven B. Levy, available at Amazon.com in book form. You may also want to consider using an online project management system such as Basecamp or Teamwork. We use secure online project management software to manage all of our projects and provide client access to their projects on the portal. Your long-term initiatives must be managed as projects and managed differently than ongoing operations.

Click here for our blog on project management

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, (www.olmsteadassoc.com) is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at jolmstead@olmsteadassoc.com.

Posted on July 20, 2011 by Chris Bonjean
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