Tag Archives: Excel

Excel Tips For Lawyers & How (Not) To Take A Holiday: Citi Execs Undeterred By Brexit Referendum Despite Market Volatility

Perhaps we should all take a page from Citigroup’s top tier’s Top Gear playbook and relax over those Brexit fears.

Last week, several senior executives specializing in foreign exchange trading at Citigroup’s London office opted out of billable hours and opted into a Ferrari funfest. According to the Financial Times, five of the bank’s top financiers took a “Ferrari safari” around France rather than help prepare for an event that could potentially pound down the country’s currency.

Lower ranks were forced to work long hours on prep for the June 23 referendum—a decision that will determine whether or not the UK exits the European Union—and described the bank directors’ ill-timed holiday as “insulting”.

Now, however, we’re forced to ask, were these caravan critiques made in vain?

Global equities rallied and the pound strengthened today, the most since 2008, with news hinting that the UK has no intention of leaving the EU after all. Instead, the S&P 500 Index shot up, the most in a month, and the Stoxx Europe 600 Index had its largest gain since August as a poll showed Britons favored remaining in the EU.

As star Citi executives sipped on champagne, the Sterling jumped 2 percent, Spanish bonds rocketed, and credit risk fell the most since March, reports Bloomberg. So, don’t vilify those VIPs just yet for rallying, the market seems to be doing much of the same.

If you’re not ready to hop into your Ferrari just yet, try taking another page from this Sterling story. You can bet that the rank-and-file members of Citigroup were making good use of Excel spreadsheets in their GB pound preparation.

Excel is not a tool exclusive to finance executives, law firm managers can make use of it, too. Excel provides many functions that lawyers can use to achieve productivity gains and perfect time-saving techniques that increase overall profitability.

Organizing timesheets in Excel can help trend your most significant cases over time. A legal administrator can organize attorney time by case matter, month, billable hours, or the billing attorney to discover which cases are the most active and which may need more attention, which attorney billed the most this month and which the least.

The best part of using Excel to short cut your expense cutting is that this complex calculator comes free with MS Office.

Your first tip? Press Ctrl + Shift + L too apply filters to your data. Filters create an easy-to-use drop down menu that automatically categories fields in your row or column.

For other tips and tricks, take The Center For Competitive Management’s audio course, “How to Use Excel for Law Firm Billing,” on Thursday, June 23, 2016 at 2:00 PM To 3:15 PM Eastern. Other Excel audio courses can be found here and here.

The same day you learn how to balance your budget, you can see exactly how much of your investments remain after the UK referendum is sure to rock financial markets.

-WB

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How Lawyers Can Use Excel: The PowerPivot Add-On & More!

Excel is a tool for Wall Street, right?

Wrong.

Excel is a multi-dimensional tool that is useful in a variety of industries, from accounting to finance to law. Yes, that’s right, there are a plethora of reasons lawyers should use Excel in their practice.

Below are a few suggestions of everyday legal activity that could be made easier and accomplished more efficiently with Excel.

Case Analysis

One of the more important tools in Excel is the PivotTable. Now, there’s a brand new feature—the PowerPivot—that brings PivotTables to a whole new level. First, let’s discuss the features of the regular PivotTable.

PivotTables help organize and analyze data. For example, let’s say you want to organize hot docs by key words in discovery. Or maybe you want to identify key concepts or key witnesses and sort them by priority or some other measure. Perhaps you have a long chain of correspondence for the case and you want to code it by sender, receiver, message subject, etc. PivotTables allow you to take each of these categories and sum, filter, or count their contents. You can take any complex dataset and reorganize it with your own ddesignated columns or rows.

How does this compare to PowerPivot? PowerPivot adds the following capabilities (read more at the Journal of Accountancy here):

  • Multiple data sources (pull data from two or more sources into a single report)
  • Many types of sources (pull data from just about anywhere into a PivotTable)
  • Sets (advanced filtering)
  • Large data sources (analyze data that exceeds Excel’s row limit)
  • Expressions (advanced functions and time intelligence)

Basically PowerPivot is the new and vastly improved PivotTable. The extra filtering capabilities are exceptionally useful.

Does all this information sound like a foreign language? Take The Center For Competitive Management’s webinar, “Using PowerPivot to Pump-Up the Power of Microsoft Excel,” on Wednesday, March 30, 2016 from 2:00 PM to 3:15 PM Eastern time. 

Case Status Updates

Law firms circulate internally, and to the client, a case status update.

Excel makes this easy by providing a manipulatable database sorted or filtered by client name, county, type of case, date filed, place filed, date settled, opposing attorney, case settlement amount, and attorney fees to date.

At the end of the year, the compilation of all case status spreadsheets will give managing partners the perfect overview of upcoming casework and trials, in addition to closed and settled matters (not to mention, incoming income!).

Casework assignments 

In a similar vein, Excel can expedite the process of assigning cases to attorneys. Excel can be used as a method to effectively organize case assignments and avoid duplication of work effort.

That way, when a senior attorney wants to know who is creating the timeline (in Excel, of course) for his case matter, the information, including the name of the assigned associate and the status of his or her work, is quickly and clearly accessible.

 

Timelines 

For internal reference and trial presentations, timelines are an essential weapon in a litigants quiver. Lawyers involved in complex litigation must have a clear understanding of the chronology of the case.

However, these timelines are also vital to a firm when the case goes to trial—jury members must understand case chronology, as well.

This means a timeline must be both functional and visually stimulating. Enter, Excel.

Excel has the ability to sort timelines by event and date in a meaningful and demonstrative way. Microsoft in Education even provides a tutorial to explain exactly how to achieve this in its article, “Create A Timeline In Microsoft Excel.”

Timesheets

Today, an increasing number of lawyers are using Mac computers and Apple software at the office. Just read the titles of new legal blogs on the web, including Mac Lawyer, Law Office Software For The Macintosh, and Criminal Defense With An Apple.

Even those lawyers, however, are keen on Microsoft products. Take, for example, Esquire Mac’s discussion of billable hour software versus Excel:

“Over the years, I’ve developed a fairly simple but flexible spreadsheet for tracking my billable time. For our firm, this represents the ideal solution at present. I have taken a liking to a few different Mac billing apps out there (like Billings, Involer, Invoice, GrandTotal, and iRatchet) but each of them falls short in one way or another for our purposes.”

No need to purchase expensive billing software when Microsoft Office is already uploaded to your office computers.

In addition, though some firms may have staff or consultants dedicated to case management analysis, for smaller firms, organizing timesheets in Excel can help trend your most significant cases over time.

For example, a legal administrator can organize attorney time by case matter, month, billable hours, or the billing attorney to discover which cases are the most active and which may need more attention, which attorney billed the most this month and which the least.

Access to this type of information will make a firm more attentive to any clients who might be falling through the cracks, and also increase its overall profitability, after it knows where to devote more billable hours.

In the end, Excel has applications in many industries. If Excel is not frequently used in law, it’s because lawyers tend to fear it.

But, help forums and tutorials for Excel are copious online. These days, attorneys have no valid claims to MS-Office ignorance.

So, start small and get familiar with Excel’s massive potential for your firm. After all, the best part about Excel is that you already own it.

-WB

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Eliminate Outdated Legal Technology–As Easy As The ABCs

Technology is not only a pragmatic requirement of the practice of law; it is now an ethical one, too.

If your IT Department isn’t already the most integral and important part of your firm, it’s likely you’re already falling behind. Furthermore, if you use any of the following items on a day-to-day basis, your operations are as outdated, as well.

Eliminate some of these machines (and office mores) to get back on track.

“A” for Associates.

Associates are on the decline, and law firm employees on the rise.

Associate compensation models are changing as the legal marketplace becomes overpopulated with a generation of lawyers with very different workplace attitudes and expectations.

Firms are recognizing the growing obsolescence of the traditional lockstep model and are taking steps to rework it or replace it. Firms now have an opportunity to be much more creative in how their attorneys are paid and to use compensation as a way to drive long-term value. To create long-term value and retain good attorneys, a firm first needs to design a strong, coherent, and attractive strategy.

Rather than firing secretaries or de-equitizing partners, Greenberg Traurig law firm has created a new strategy for hiring associates in the form of a “residency program.” Firm managers view this program as a way to attract talented associates without having to endure the costly and risky hiring process. Also, it allows junior lawyers to sign on who may not have made the cut in the first place, reports Law21.

In addition, junior lawyers work case matters without billing their work at the high rates clients have come to expect. Sitting on conference calls and gaining on-the-job training, these “resident” attorneys gain the job experience needed to succeed in the future and sustain life in an over-saturated market today.

Greenberg is simultaneously creating a new non-shareholder-track position called the practice group attorney, similar to the positions at law firms Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton; and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

The age of the Associate is over.

“B” for Binders

Why are you till making copies, printing out transcripts, and creating binders? Sure, every once in awhile, there’s a need for a hard-copy backup binder. But, it’s time to go digital.

Papers can be scanned, digitally stored, text-recognized, and then made searchable to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your law firm.

Binders are out, and electronic case material software—MyCase, Amicus Attorney, AdvantageLaw, LegalFiles, and OneNote—is in.

“C” for Conference calls

How many people really benefit from conference calls? Already, it’s impossible for more than one person to speak, and—often—people accidentally speak over one another.

Is a conference call more efficient than a memo? Do five people really need to bill the client for the same call?

Conference calls can easily be replaced with a quick person-to-person conversation, memorandums circulated over email, lists distributing work product, or—for the advanced law firm—discussions over a wiki (Learn how to create one here).

Ditch the conference call and develop your social capital at in-person conferences instead.

“D” for Dictaphones

Della may have used a Dictaphone for Perry Mason, but outside the world of black and white television is the real world of iPhones and Macbooks.

Your smartphone, tablet, and computer is capable of recording and even transcribing audio. So why are you still using cassette tape recorders? The Dictaphone should die in a fiery death, the app Dragon Dictation, however, is worth its weight in Silicon.

“E” for E-mail

Experts agree, e-mail is outdated. A meeting-less morning, a conference-call free afternoon, or e-mail-less day goes a long way in productivity for the firm and project deliverables for your clients.

Reading and answering e-mail takes up approximately 28 percent of the average workweek for employees, reports a 2012 study by McKinsey & Company. Communicating and collaborating internally takes up 14 percent of the workweek, and searching and gathering information just 19 percent.

Have you ever e-mailed a colleague who shares a wall with you? If so, it’s time to reconsider your e-mail etiquette and e-mail frequency.

Electronic communication certainly has its advantages. But, its overuse has made e-mail under-perform in comparison to old-fashioned office visits.

“F” for Faxes

Ok, keep your fax machine. But only if it’s paid for or used as a paperweight, museum item, or reminder to what legal assistants had to go through to file motions in the past. Otherwise, stick to e-filings or eFaxing.

You know what’s not outdated? MS Office. Take one of The Center For Competitive Management (C4CM)’s audio conferences on technology integration for law firms:

Excel Dashboards: Tips, Tricks & Techniques to Communicate & Summarize Complex Excel Data,” Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Do you know how to create beautiful graphs that really convey the message of where the company is and where it needs to go? This webinar will show you how to create useful Dashboards that turn business data into actionable information.

Excel Dashboards are a powerful tool to communicate and summarize complex Excel data. They are designed to draw your audience’s attention so the most important information jumps right out at them and they don’t have to scan the entire page for hours just to get a simple answer.

PowerPoint 2010: Top 10 Steps to Creating & Delivering Killer Presentations,” Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Are you looking for the quickest and most effective ways to create PowerPoint presentations that attract visual interest and communicate your important business information?

Creating professional, unique PowerPoint presentations is much easier than you think. In fact, in just 90 minutes, you will learn how to create beautifully-designed, visually appealing PowerPoint presentations in just 10 simple steps.

During this interactive webinar, you will learn how to take advantage of the many under-utilized formatting options in PowerPoint 2010 to create and customize visually stunning and effective presentations.

And many, many more!

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Throw-back Thursday: Sumerian Syria & Serious Uses For Excel (For Lawyers)

How about another throw-back Thursday history lesson (and then some law). It’s about Syria—but long before the country was known for ISIS, it was valued for ideas.

Today, two days after news came out that ISIS had burned a captive Jordanian pilot to death, the small Middle Eastern nation hit back big. Jordanian fighter jets flew over the home of the slain 27-year-old pilot, Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh, in the village of Ay in Karak governorate after participating in air strikes over ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria.

Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani told CNNThursday that Jordan’s response to the killing “will be strong and will be decisive.”

“We will not let this crime of killing our pilots with the horrific way it was done pass without punishment,” al-Momani said to CNN. “These people will be punished.”

As of today, the government certainly lived up to that promise.

If we go back in time, however, we can look to a small city—Mari—located on the border of Iraq and Syria, not far from Jordan, where civilizations used to come together, rather than clash.

Mari (modern-day Tell Hariri, Syria) was an ancient Semitic city located on the Euphrates river western bank. Thousands of years ago it flourished as a trade center and hegemonic state from 2900 BC until 1759 BC. The city was built expressly for the purpose of trade, based on its relative position in the middle of the Euphrates trade routes—a position that made it an intermediary between Sumer in the south and the Levant in the west.

Sumer is a civilization that existed slightly before that of Ancient Egypt and located in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). By the late fourth millennium B.C., Sumer (or Ki-en-gir, ‘Land of the Sumerian tongue’) was divided into approximately a dozen city-states which were independent of one another and which used local canals and boundary stones to mark their borders, according to historians (read more about Sumer here).

Far before Iraq was coveted for its oil, it was celebrated for its inventions. There are at least four different translations (although they sometimes conflict) on the names of Sumerian rulers and their illustrious lengths of rule. It’s on one such document that an early Sumerian invention is described: the wheel, dating to circa 3500 BC.

You could perhaps claim that Iraq was forever—since as far as Sumer—destined to be a place highly influential in the creation of the car.

Besides the wheel, however, law firm professionals—people, in general—should be thankful for Sumer’s many crucial contributions to modern technology and language. For example, the civilization reminds us even today why there is no point, thousands of years later, in reinventing the wheel (although many people throughout history have tried).

Now, going back to the practice of law, think about how many new computer programs, tablet and mobile apps that organize case matter material, new-fangled software to organize all the details of your case.

Do we need it all?

When it comes to timesheets, timelines, case status updates, “to do” lists, and other casework assignments, Microsoft Excel has become a tried and true tool for lawyers and law firm managers.

And, its many features are available on the iPad, a favorite among attorneys.

Recently, when Microsoft Excel rolled out a bunch of new features for Excel for iPad, we were paying attention. This is a run-down of Excel for iPad’s new design additions (thanks to AccountingWeb):

  • Pivot table functionality. In the first incarnation, pivot tables were literally trapped under glass, meaning you could only scroll the data around on the screen. Now, although the workbook must already contain a pivot table before opening it using the app, you have the capability to expand, collapse, filter, and even refresh pivot tables, as shown in Figure 1.The caveat on refreshing is that the source data must be within the same workbook as the pivot table.
  • Email documents as PDF. Previously, Excel spreadsheets could only be emailed in their native format, but you can now email spreadsheets in PDF form. Figure 2 walks you through the steps.External keyboard support. Using an external keyboard allows you to use the same navigation and data entry techniques that you do in the desktop-based versions of Excel..
  • Flick to select. You’ll quickly wish for this innovative feature in the desktop versions of Excel. Flick a cell’s selection handle in any direction to automatically select all data in that row or column for a contiguous area of the spreadsheet. It’s a huge advance in using Excel on a touch-enabled device.
  • Third-party fonts. You can now access third-party fonts installed on your iPad in the Excel app.
  • Picture tools. Excel for iPad now supports in-app picture editing so your firm can, for example, update its very attractive blog site.

Not yet convinced of Excel’s application to your law practice? Here‘s a detailed account of how lawyers can use Excel.

Lawyers can use Excel to track (1) timesheets; (2) timelines; (3) case status updates; (4) casework assignments; and (5) financial reporting. These uses, and more, can be easily configured to sync with e-mail in Outlook and all your mobile devices (like the iPad, see above). More than that, Excel is a tried-and-true program that has been used for centuries decades throughout history to save time and money.

Instead of the ghastly air strikes, remember the history of Syria for Sumer. And, don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to (also, don’t add unnecessary conflict in your professional life over it, either).

Learn more about how your law firm can use Excel with The Center For Competitive Management (C4CM)’s guides and webinars:

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Throw-back Thursday To 3500 B.C.: What Your Law Firm Should Know About The Wheel & MS Excel

How about a throw-back Thursday history lesson (and then some law). It’s about Iraq—but way before the country was valued for oil, it was valued for ideas.

Sumer is a civilization that existed slightly before that of Ancient Egypt and located in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). By the late fourth millennium B.C., Sumer (or Ki-en-gir, ‘Land of the Sumerian tongue’) was divided into approximately a dozen city-states which were independent of one another and which used local canals and boundary stones to mark their borders, according to historians (read more about Sumer here).

There are at least four different translations (although they sometimes conflict) on the names of Sumerian rulers and their illustrious lengths of rule. It’s on one such document that an early Sumerian invention is described: the wheel, dating to circa 3500 BC.

You could perhaps claim that Iraq was forever—since as far as Sumer—destined to be a place highly influential in the creation of the car.

Besides the wheel, however, law firm professionals—people, in general—should be thankful for Sumer’s many crucial contributions to modern technology and language. For example, the civilization reminds us even today why there is no point, thousands of years later, in reinventing the wheel (although many people throughout history have tried).

Going back to the practice of law, think about how many new computer programs, tablet and mobile apps that organize case matter material, new-fangled software to organize all the details of your case.

Do we need it all?

When it comes to timesheets, timelines, case status updates, “to do” lists, and other casework assignments, Microsoft Excel has become a tried and true tool for lawyers and law firm managers.

And, its many features are available on the iPad, a favorite among attorneys.

So, last month, when Microsoft Excel rolled out a bunch of new features for Excel for iPad, you should have been paying attention. But, just in case you weren’t, here’s a run-down of Excel for iPad’s new design additions (thanks to AccountingWeb):

Pivot table functionality. In the first incarnation, pivot tables were literally trapped under glass, meaning you could only scroll the data around on the screen. Now, although the workbook must already contain a pivot table before opening it using the app, you have the capability to expand, collapse, filter, and even refresh pivot tables, as shown in Figure 1.The caveat on refreshing is that the source data must be within the same workbook as the pivot table.

Email documents as PDF. Previously, Excel spreadsheets could only be emailed in their native format, but you can now email spreadsheets in PDF form. Figure 2 walks you through the steps.External keyboard support. Using an external keyboard allows you to use the same navigation and data entry techniques that you do in the desktop-based versions of Excel..

Flick to select. You’ll quickly wish for this innovative feature in the desktop versions of Excel. Flick a cell’s selection handle in any direction to automatically select all data in that row or column for a contiguous area of the spreadsheet. It’s a huge advance in using Excel on a touch-enabled device.

Third-party fonts. You can now access third-party fonts installed on your iPad in the Excel app.

Picture tools. Excel for iPad now supports in-app picture editing.

Not yet convinced of Excel’s application to your law practice? Here‘s a detailed account of how lawyers can use Excel.

Not only that, attend The Center for Competitive Management’s audio course on “Excel Charts and Graphs Made Easy” on Friday, October 17, 2014, from 2pm to 3:30pm EST.

Remember the history of Sumer and Iraq and don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to (and don’t add unnecessary conflict in your professional life over it, either).

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What Is Project Management & Should Your Firm Care?

Three men, a project manager, an engineer, and a lawyer, traveled to the Grand Cayman Islands to conduct business there.

Although the Grand Cayman Islands are known for their bustling financial industry, they are—of course—also hub of tourism. So, the three men walk along the nearest beach until one of them stumbles upon a lamp buried in the sand. He rubs it and a genie appears. The genie says “Normally I would grant you 3 wishes, but since there are 3 of you, I will grant each of you one wish.”

The software engineer went first. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living in a huge house in St. Thomas, with no money worries.” The genie granted him his wish and sent him on off to St. Thomas.

The accountant went next. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living on a huge yacht cruising the islands around St. John, with no money worries.” The genie granted him his wish and sent him off to St. John.

Last, but not least, it was the project manager’s turn. “And what would your wish be?” asked the genie.

“I want them both back after lunch,” replied the project manager. [1]

Now, you may have already heard this joke. Surprisingly, it makes fun of somebody other than the lawyer.

Project management, in general, is not typically associated with legal work. In fact, most lawyers would have a hard time defining the term. Is it case management? Is it human resources?

The Project Management Institute defines a project as “the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. It’s a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals—and thus, better compete in their markets.”

Reading between the lines, project management adds value to a firm. Law firms are no exception.

“Until very recently, lawyers that did recognise the term have considered the concept of project management beneath them. After all, lawyers were artisans not merchants or manufacturers. Each matter was unique and required the utmost flexibility. But the topic has been getting growing attention, especially from clients who have seen internally how important project management can be to efficient operation. Many outside lawyers are, as a result, starting to realize the ‘artisan’ argument does not hold water. Much of what lawyers do is a commoditised process. Even within highly customised bet-the-company cases, there are elements of commodity work and the process is similar from one case to the next, even if the facts are not,” explains Patrick J. Lamb, author of Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. [2]

These days, during a recession, it’s even more important to streamline operations and ensure each department adds value. Thus, law firms can no longer ignore project management. It is necessary for firms to succeed.

So, how do you apply project management to case matters within law firms?

According to Jim Hassett, author of The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, there are 8 project management tasks for law firms [3]:

  1. Set objectives and define scope
  2. Identify and schedule activities
  3. Assign tasks and manage the team
  4. Plan and manage the budget
  5. Assess risks to the budget and schedule
  6. Manage quality
  7. Manage client communications and expectations
  8. Negotiate changes of scope

On the other hand, project management is only as good as its tools. Assigning tasks, planning the budget, and assessing risks require data collection and analysis. For law firms, there’s no better tool than Excel.

Excel can be used as a method to effectively organize case assignments and avoid duplication of work effort. For example, when a senior attorney wants to know who is creating the timeline (in Excel, of course) for his case matter, the information, including the name of the assigned associate and the status of his or her work, is quickly and clearly accessible.

Excel is also a financial tool that can conduct risk assessments and managing accounting books. Luckily, Excel comes free on most computers, and there exist a myriad of help tutorials to get you started. In fact, here are all the MS Office tips and tricks that every lawyer should know.

At the same time, there is a plethora of legal software available to firms with programs customized to your needs. Have your IT Department education you on your options.

Finally, the question remains, if project management is necessary, who then is best at becoming project managers?

For starters, all senior partners should feel comfortable with the tools used to manage projects. There are a lot of time constraitns on the “boss”, but ensuring he efficiency, productivity, and profitability of every firm activity is of primary importance.

Next, consider using your legal librarians as project managers. There’s nobody better suited for a job surrounding organization than a person intimately familiar with the Dewey Decimal system.

Finally, make sure all employees take project management seriously. Whether you increase the managing responsibilities of current managing partners or hire a separate project manager, your law firm should place project managers in a position of authority and respect.

Achieve your wish of “no money worries.” Implement strict project management practices today.

-WB

Need help? Follow C4CM’s guide, Effective Time Management: Take Control, Tackle Work Flow Chaos and Overcome Productivity Challenges.

References:

  1. The Joke Index
  2. Jim Hassett, The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide: Tools and Templates to Increase Efficiency,  2d ed (Boston, MA: LegalBizDev, 2011), 3.
  3. Patrick J. Lamb, Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market (London, UK: Ark Group, 2010), 52.

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What Is Project Management & Should Your Firm Care?

Three men, a project manager, an engineer, and a lawyer, traveled to the Grand Cayman Islands to conduct business there.

 Although the Grand Cayman Islands are known for their bustling financial industry, they are—of course—also hub of tourism. So, the three men walk along the nearest beach until one of them stumbles upon a lamp buried in the sand. He rubs it and a genie appears. The genie says “Normally I would grant you 3 wishes, but since there are 3 of you, I will grant each of you one wish.”

The software engineer went first. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living in a huge house in St. Thomas, with no money worries.” The genie granted him his wish and sent him on off to St. Thomas.

The accountant went next. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living on a huge yacht cruising the islands around St. John, with no money worries.” The genie granted him his wish and sent him off to St. John.

Last, but not least, it was the project manager’s turn. “And what would your wish be?” asked the genie.

“I want them both back after lunch,” replied the project manager. [1]

Now, you may have already heard this joke. Surprisingly, it makes fun of somebody other than the lawyer.

Project management, in general, is not typically associated with legal work. In fact, most lawyers would have a hard time defining the term. Is it case management? Is it human resources?

The Project Management Institute defines a project as “the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. It’s a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals—and thus, better compete in their markets.”

Reading between the lines, project management adds value to a firm. Law firms are no exception.

“Until very recently, lawyers that did recognise the term have considered the concept of project management beneath them. After all, lawyers were artisans not merchants or manufacturers. Each matter was unique and required the utmost flexibility. But the topic has been getting growing attention, especially from clients who have seen internally how important project management can be to efficient operation. Many outside lawyers are, as a result, starting to realize the ‘artisan’ argument does not hold water. Much of what lawyers do is a commoditised process. Even within highly customised bet-the-company cases, there are elements of commodity work and the process is similar from one case to the next, even if the facts are not,” explains Patrick J. Lamb, author of Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. [2]

These days, during a recession, it’s even more important to streamline operations and ensure each department adds value. Thus, law firms can no longer ignore project management. It is necessary for firms to succeed.

So, how do you apply project management to case matters within law firms?

According to Jim Hassett, author of The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, there are 8 project management tasks for law firms [3]:

  1. Set objectives and define scope
  2. Identify and schedule activities
  3. Assign tasks and manage the team
  4. Plan and manage the budget
  5. Assess risks to the budget and schedule
  6. Manage quality
  7. Manage client communications and expectations
  8. Negotiate changes of scope

On the other hand, project management is only as good as its tools. Assigning tasks, planning the budget, and assessing risks require data collection and analysis. For law firms, there’s no better tool than Excel.

Excel can be used as a method to effectively organize case assignments and avoid duplication of work effort. For example, when a senior attorney wants to know who is creating the timeline (in Excel, of course) for his case matter, the information, including the name of the assigned associate and the status of his or her work, is quickly and clearly accessible.

Excel is also a financial tool that can conduct risk assessments and managing accounting books. Luckily, Excel comes free on most computers, and there exist a myriad of help tutorials to get you started. In fact, here are all the MS Office tips and tricks that every lawyer should know.

At the same time, there is a plethora of legal software available to firms with programs customized to your needs. Have your IT Department education you on your options.

Finally, the question remains, if project management is necessary, who then is best at becoming project managers?

For starters, all senior partners should feel comfortable with the tools used to manage projects. There are a lot of time constraitns on the “boss”, but ensuring he efficiency, productivity, and profitability of every firm activity is of primary importance.

Next, consider using your legal librarians as project managers. There’s nobody better suited for a job surrounding organization than a person intimately familiar with the Dewey Decimal system.

Finally, make sure all employees take project management seriously. Whether you increase the managing responsibilities of current managing partners or hire a separate project manager, your law firm should place project managers in a position of authority and respect.

Achieve your wish of “no money worries.” Implement strict project management practices today.

-WB

Need help? Follow C4CM’s guide, Effective Time Management: Take Control, Tackle Work Flow Chaos and Overcome Productivity Challenges.

References:

  1. The Joke Index
  2. Jim Hassett, The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide: Tools and Templates to Increase Efficiency,  2d ed (Boston, MA: LegalBizDev, 2011), 3.
  3. Patrick J. Lamb, Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market (London, UK: Ark Group, 2010), 52.

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