Project management tools can help lawyers with ongoing, chaotic, unpredictable workflows. Nicole Clark points to five applications to consider for the task.
In 1931, Neil H. McElroy at Procter & Gamble circulated a memo that envisioned an employee who would be responsible for every facet of brand development — everything from tracking sales to advertising, promotion and product development. Over the years, predictions have proliferated, with many anticipating that these product managers would come to replace project managers.
Those predictions have fallen flat across the legal sector. Instead, in the past decade, the popularity of legal project management has grown exponentially. Offering a legal service is, of course, quite different from developing a new disinfectant, or building a software application or a material object. Few legal projects resemble the step-by-step processes involved in offering a good rather than a service. This is why legal project management is turning into a field of its own, innovating industry-specific techniques for improving client service and efficiency, in ways that increase client involvement and transparency.
An Accidental Project Manager
As law students, few litigators imagined themselves transitioning into project management roles after passing the bar. Litigators rarely receive formal training in project management, but this does not mean they do not do project management. As one legal project manager commented, “Lawyers have been playing the role of accidental project manager for many years.”
Project Management Tools
Your firm may not be in a position to hire a legal project manager, but many software programs out there can help lawyers manage ongoing and chaotic workflows. Here are a few tools — both general management and legal apps — that can help with the task:
- Asana project management software is based on the Kanban management system, which enables users to visualize work-in-progress. Asana is effective at breaking down complex projects into actionable tasks, in a manner that allows users to prioritize the things that matter most. You can create and assign tasks to specific individuals as well as identify the dependencies between tasks. This is achieved through the development of boards or lists.
- Trello is another popular Kanban-style tool that, like Asana, stores information in the cloud. A client intake staff member can create a new board for each potential client. They can customize each board with columns so that staff members can track or manage the development of a case. One column might be dedicated to deadlines, another to discovery tasks, another to trial preparation. The benefit of a Kaban-style collaborative work environment is that it gives participants a visual picture of the whole project. Communication is no longer siloed between individuals. It is shared across an entire team
- Evernote is used by a number of attorneys, particularly for capturing information for legal research, productivity tasks and even case management. Evernote has the ability to capture and save notes and recordings from the web in a variety of different formats, whether these be emails, legal briefs, research files or discovery documents. According to Heidi Alexander, author of “Evernote as a Law Practice Tool,” “you can use the web clipper to save case law from the internet and then tag it with a case proposition, a fact pattern, [or a] jurisdiction … then when you later need that case all you need to do is search by tag. In contrast, when I was in practice we would print all of our cases, annotate them at the top, throw them in a folder and look through all these files.” (Related: “Five Ways to Start Using Evernote in Your Law Practice.”)
- dTrax is an end-to-end contract management tool developed by Deloitte’s AI Factory to streamline the drafting process. While many attorneys are already familiar with text templates or speech-to-text applications, dTrax provides templates that can automatically input contextual data, speeding up creation of contracts that are highly repetitive in some sections and highly personalized in other sections. You can store and manage contract negotiations, building an archive of templates that highlights previously contested clauses. All of this can be used to help create new documents in the future, separating the language that works from the language that doesn’t work. After a contract is signed and stored, dTrax even provides automatic alerts for expiration dates and other important milestones.
- TrialPad is a popular trial presentation iPad app from Lit Software that also serves as an affordable project management application. It allows lawyers to organize, manipulate and annotate documents for presentation in the courtroom or at the conference table. For solo practitioners and small law firms, an application like TrialPad makes trial preparation and organization easy. You can organize matters into separate case folders, coloring and customizing each with easy-to-identify icons — and you can share cases with other TrialPad users. (Yes, you can use TrialPad for remote conferences and presentations on Zoom or other videoconference platforms.)
A Powerful Project Management Panacea?
New technologies are weaving their way into every nook and cranny of the legal industry, allowing us to work anywhere at any time with incredible efficiency. These days, it seems as though every workflow frustration can be met with an easily accessible technological solution.
Still, it is important to take stock of the demand for new legal technologies. According to one study a while back, 42% of responding lawyers who did not use cloud computing said they did not plan to ever use it. Why not? More than half raised confidentiality and security concerns, particularly when it came to losing access to, and ownership over, data. In fact, fewer than one-third of cloud computing attorneys bothered to read the terms of service agreements of the software they use.
These concerns still act as a reminder that efficiency and transparency come with their own costs and benefits.
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