As a paralegal, a big part of your job is the act of managing ongoing projects. Managing cases, client communication, attorney priorities, and timelines, the list goes on. Despite this, you might still not completely know what “project management” is when it comes to the law firm.
Gain a professional edge by diving deeper into what project management skills you’re gaining with your current priorities. Make your job easier while honing experience that will boost your career and give you an edge.
What is project management?
Project management is the practice of using different specialized techniques to assist in the completion of a project. Every time you work on a case, you’re technically already practicing project management at some level, using these techniques so they’re applicable to law.
Most of these methods are very simple. They focus on concepts that you are probably already skilled in, like time management and basic strategic thinking. By understanding how you’re already applying basic project management principles to legal projects and endeavors, you’ll learn to merge your legal skills with your technical ones to be more effective at every level of your work.
#1: Identifying your project
First, define what the project is, in the circumstances that you’re working within. Is it a new client that your firm is taking on? Is it a specific case that you are going to be highly involved in? Is it the restructuring of a process in the department or firm? Thinking more broadly about what you are working on as “projects” can help with the overall management and execution of the work.
#2: Map your objectives
You probably already know how important it is to have a basic framework or outline in place. Mapping out each stage of your project and goals will make it easier to visualize how each step will be accomplished. In the practice of project management, there are five basic stages to consider:
Initiating: This is where you’ll make all the decisions involving the beginning of your project. Consulting your client, considering alternatives, and establishing necessary conditions and agreements are all common parts of this stage.
Planning: Here you will establish all of the basics of your project. Consider who will take the lead, what resources you will need, and what strategies you will employ. How much will it cost? How long will it take?
Executing: Where the work of the project is done. The more thorough the planning stage, the more smoothly the work will get done.
Monitoring & controlling: Occurring simultaneously with the execution stage, it’s important to track how the project is proceeding and make necessary adjustments to keep it running smoothly.
Closing: The final stage, where you review the results of your project, document them, and reflect on any takeaways. Dividing up the main objectives of your project and assigning them to each of these categories is an effective strategy for streamlining your work.
Being able to visualize the finish line of your project is just as important as having a clear starting point. Establishing your end goal and overall objective is what lays the tracks for the rest of your project. It’s what you’ll be basing most of your decisions and budget on.
#3: Identify what is required to produce results
Creating a successful project management strategy is dependent on knowing what works and what doesn’t. To gain a better idea of what you’ll need to achieve your desired result, review similar projects and cases. Take note of issues that were encountered. Think about why and how the issues occurred. By identifying the weak spots that occurred in the past with similar scenarios, you can learn and prevent the same mistakes from happening again.
#4: Use the Triple Constraint Theory
Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated or scientific as it sounds! The Triple Constraint theory is actually quite simple. In the context of project management, it states that every project works within three boundaries:
Scope. This is the groundwork of your project. Think about basic goals and requirements. Is there anything else you feel the need to flesh out before digging into the project itself? How big can you go?
Time. Try to come up with a general estimate of your project’s schedule. The more accurate, the better. It’s what you’ll use to drive project decisions to meet your deadline.
Cost. Lay out your project budget in a way that works for you, while keeping in mind the reality of budget constraints. If you make an estimate that’s not quite accurate and end up running into unexpected costs, you may have to revise the other two facets of your triangle to see how it all fits together.
The Triple Constraint Theory states that if one of these variables changes, the other two will also always be affected. Because of this, utilizing the Triple Constraint Theory as a project management tool is all about finding balance. Once you’ve identified the variables of your project, you can start “balancing” your triangle: analyzing it to make calls on where your focus should be, where you can afford to make trade-offs, and anything else you need to take into account to make your project work.
#5: Create a project scope for your tasks
Your project’s scope, as touched on above, is an assessment of all the basic marks you need to hit to consider your project done. When you’re creating it, think of it as a to-do list with some extra information. Write out the tasks in the order you expect to complete them. Include data detailing how long each step is expected to take and its associated costs. You can highlight items that will require additional resources, giving you lead time to carry them out.
#6: See yourself as a stakeholder
When you’re a project manager, you’re a part of a team, and seeing yourself as such is important when approaching a project. Just as you expect things from the fellow members of your team and your clients, they expect things from you as well, and it’s important to keep communications open and honest to keep things running smoothly.
Be straightforward with your teammates and don’t be afraid to propose new ideas or new ways to approach something—even if you personally feel like it’s not something worth exploring, someone else may be able to see it from a different perspective and help you build the idea.
#7: Keep an extensive library of technical and legal resources
Keep your resources documented and on hand to assist with your project management tasks. The definition of “resources” can be broad. Consider them anything you need or may need in the future that assists with your project. Some good places to start are:
Your project plan: also known as your scope, it’s your road map to getting things done.
A project charter: This document is used by project managers to define the main goals. It also provides a timeline and lists team members and leadership.
Budget and variance reports: These are crucial to avoid surprise costs that you or your teammates may not have anticipated otherwise.
#8: Learn to aid in the process of balancing expectations
A big part of being a paralegal already involves having good communication skills and being able to effectively discuss expectations with a client. This carries over into project management heavily, as you want to be able to involve your client or any other stakeholders in the process and be absolutely communicative about what the expected goals are and what the constraints are. When managing expectations, it’s also important to not just present what can and can’t be done to them. Present them with alternatives, explore all the available avenues with them, and make revisions to the plan as necessary.
#9: Implement quality control techniques
Quality control is a way of double-checking and cross-referencing work to ensure that it meets the high standards of your team. It’s important to agree on the criteria for success in early stages and when discussing scope, but incorporate fellow team members in conducting quality control to ensure a layer of additional confirmation that the work that is being done will meet the highest expectations and hold up over time.
#10: Reflect on takeaways before closing a project
As your project winds to a close, you’ll want to carefully review the results with both your client and your team members. Document not only the successes but also the failures and the lessons learned throughout the process. Hold feedback sessions with your team. The conclusion of the project is one of the most important parts. Learn from it, make changes where necessary, and build off its successes for future projects.
Acquiring project management skills as a paralegal is a veritable step that can be career-changing as well as add a skillset to your resume that makes you much more marketable to firms that are more forward-thinking. Do yourself the justice of activating another level of achievement, organization, and skills development to your plate.