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Matter management for law firms 101

For law firms, good matter management can be the difference between a firm that keeps growing or one that always struggles to keep up.

Most of the legal work you do on a daily basis falls under the category of matter management.

Doing the work is only part of the picture, though. A good matter management approach helps your law firm stay organized, get more done, and make more money.

In this article, we’ll explain the different components of matter management, share tips to make the work easier, and talk about the best tools your firm can use to excel at this critical responsibility.

What is matter management?

In simple terms, matter management is everything a law firm does to keep track of cases. That includes the work that has been done, the files and data associated with the case, the client and opponent information, and even all the associated fees, expenses, and invoices.

A matter is just another word for the job you do for a legal client. It could be a litigation matter, a corporate matter, a real estate matter, or any other kind of situation your firm might handle. One client may have several open matters with your firm.

Matter management is more than just file management.

It’s different from client management.

And it’s not just about handling the legal parts of a project.

Essentially, it’s all of those things and more. Perhaps the best way to understand matter management is to break down all the various components of a legal matter.

What are the components of a legal matter?

If you’ve practiced law for any length of time, you know that every legal matter is a multifaceted entity.

Lawyers must be well-versed in the substantive legal aspects of the matter.

Paralegals should be, too, and they handle things like court calendaring, interactions with clerks or administrative agencies, and organization of client materials for discovery, trial, or negotiation purposes.

Administrative personnel are likely to hold the keys to the physical or digital organization of the matter as well as contact information.

Other professionals like accountants will keep tabs on billing and collections.

In other words, it takes a village to properly manage a legal matter.

Here’s a chart that shows the most salient parts of matter management, along with the person (or role) who takes primary responsibility for these these tasks in most firms:

Matter Components
Person(s) Responsible
Client information: name, contact information, referral source(s), and other relevant details
Administrative assistant, File clerk
Case or transaction details: information such as the case type, parties involved, and client objectives
Billing attorney, Paralegal
Documentation: all legal documents, including contracts, blueprints, correspondence, notes, expert reports, governmental notices, permit applications, and documents prepared for production within the litigation context
Paralegal, Associates
Schedules and deadlines: court dates, filing deadlines, contract expiration or renewal dates, administrative compliance deadlines
Paralegal, Administrative assistants
Financial information: billing details, fees, expenses, and payment records
Accounting department
Legal research: statutes, regulations, case law, secondary sources pertaining to the client’s issues
Attorneys (associates and partners), Paralegals
Substantive events: negotiations, mediations, depositions, administrative hearings, investigations, discovery, site visits
Attorneys (associates and partners), Paralegals
Trials: trial preparation and execution
Attorneys (associates and partners), Paralegals

Tips for better matter management

Given that it takes so many individuals to manage a legal matter, there are some key strategies your firm should implement in order to ensure success.

#1: Set clear objectives

Each person on your team should know exactly what the end game of the matter is.

If, for example, you’re handling a litigation matter, the goal might be an early settlement that keeps costs low for the client. That will mean more time will be spent on legal analysis and negotiations than conducting “scorched earth” discovery.

Whatever the goal, just try to make sure everyone on the team knows what the ultimate client and matter objectives are so that everyone can act accordingly.

#2: Stay organized

If you want to stay on top of your matters, keep all documentation and information properly categorized and accessible.

Litigation matters might focus on things like discovery deadlines, hearing dates, and fact timelines. In a transactional matter, deal points, negotiation progress, and closing dates might be paramount.

When it comes to files, the firm should have standard organization tactics that are used for all matters of a certain type.

In a litigation matter, for example, the files might be separated into subfiles for intake information, correspondence, discovery, motion practice, important deadlines, legal research, and necessary elements of each claim at issue.

Whatever your organization strategy, it’s important that everyone in the firm use the same process so that key information can be accessed by team members easily and efficiently. A good practice management system or document management system makes this much easier, but we’ll discuss that later in this article.

#3: Communicate effectively

Without communication, your matter management will quickly fall into chaos.

There’s nothing worse than assuming someone is handling a certain task only to realize later that their responsibility was never communicated to them.

Legal matters are complicated, and things can easily fall through the cracks. Regular team meetings and accessibility of team leaders keep things running smoothly.

#4: Automate where you can

These days, there are dozens of tech tools available that can help your firm automate and accomplish key tasks. You can also automate the non-legal work that eats up your time and focus throughout the work day.

The more tasks you can automate, the more time is free for your team to work on the more substantive aspects of firm matters.

An additional benefit of automation is consistency.

When automation technology is used to do things like create pleading templates, for example, everything coming out of your firm will look and feel the same.

This aids in matter management because everyone from the client to the court knows the kind of quality they can expect out of your firm. Plus, it’s easy to hand off work from one person to another within your firm. They can simply pick up where the last person left off.

#5: Develop SOPs and train well

The best way to implement all of these tips is to develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for matter management.

As you develop SOPs, make sure that every relevant faction of your firm is represented from administrative assistants to paralegals to attorneys. That way, your SOPs will be usable and efficient for everyone in the firm.

For example, you wouldn’t want a team composed solely of attorneys to create an SOP for file management. Those procedures should be built based on input from attorneys and the administrative staff who will actually carry them out.

Once the SOPs are in place, training for ongoing matter management becomes a breeze.

New employees can be given concise handbooks that delineate task responsibilities and procedures. If there’s ever a question about who does what, the SOPs can be pulled off the shelf to get the team back on track.

Finding the right tools for the job

There are so many powerful automation tools and other technologies that are specifically designed to help law firms manage matters.

Systems like Clio Manage, mycase, Smokeball, iManage, and Leap are all designed with law firm matter management in mind. Each has a different set of features and strengths, but they all do a wonderful job of creating a centralized way to handle all the different aspects of your matters.

If you don’t already use a case management system or document management system, that’s where you should start. Using a CMS or DMS is crucial for good matter management.

From there, you can use integrated services like InfoTrack to make your main system more powerful. With InfoTrack, for example, you can handle filings, automate expense tracking, and even manage service of process directly from your matters.

In conclusion, matter management is the backbone of a law firm’s operations. By understanding its components and employing efficient practices, tools, and training, law firms can enhance productivity, improve client service, and maintain a competitive edge.

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