Updated: Feb 28
Human beings are impatient. Sometimes we race towards a goal, without understanding and mapping out our journey. This can lead to disappointment, procrastination, and timeframes slipping when unforeseen setbacks arise and we’re unsure how to overcome them. I’ve seen this happen in in-house legal teams, who are under so much pressure to get projects completed they switch to ‘doing’ mode before setting out the project’s scope and managing expectations regarding timeframes. This results in a disgruntled business that doesn't understand why a legal project hasn’t been completed on time and within budget.
Legal teams shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a thorough kick-off meeting with business stakeholders before embarking on a deal or project, which legal project managers can oversee. The adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail” has never rung truer. These meetings should cover:
You may have completed a similar project before. Before embarking on new projects, businesses should look back and assess what went well and what could be improved upon, what the stumbling blocks were and can they be better addressed. For example were things delayed, not communicated properly, or not prioritised which led to interruptions and increased expenditure? A legal project manager can assess projects at their conclusion, so they can help the team learn for next time what could be done better. These can be discussed with the business, with an aim of working collaboratively and transparently about what is and isn’t possible on a project. Expectations can be managed with the business too.
Everyone wants to get work off their plate, but lawyers will also need to consider if completing a project is realistic within the timeframe the business has set. Assess what other projects and daily responsibilities that also need balancing– is it doable? Are freelance legal consultants required in order to complete it, and / or extend the timeframes? Be honest and realistic and negotiate with the business about when the work can be completed. Find out important as well as arbitrary deadlines, assess and then communicate what can be done. I’ve seen in-house legal teams having to manage many different projects and end up not completing any of them, because the deadlines are too tight, the impact hasn’t been measured on the team’s workload and this means they can’t adjust it accordingly. The business is also in the dark about these shortcomings, with unrealistic expectations about when the project can be completed. If there are already competing priorities and the possibilities of bottlenecks in the future , discuss with the business about what should be a priority. A legal project manager can also initiate this process and analyse how resources need to be allocated to ensure each person’s talents / skills are utilised effectively to complete the project, and whether they are achievable.
Everyone sets off to work, but who’s overseeing the project? Who’s making sure things are running smoothly and problem solving to remove project blockers? Someone in the team will need to be delegated that responsibility and be the first port of call for the business. Hiring a legal project manager is wise as their responsibility is to keep everyone and the project on track, rather than getting caught up with the day-to-day legal work. At kick off meetings project managers can agree how they will manage the project, what their responsibilities will be, what they expect of the team during the project and what this means for the business. Milestones can be discussed in the kick-off meeting, and having oversight, project managers can also adjust resources over time to adapt to unexpected developments. Legal project managers can set out a timeline, track it and any delays that occur can be recorded, communicated and mitigated, with full cooperation and communication with the business.
A legal project manager can facilitate regular and efficient communication with business stakeholders regarding progress. I’ve arrived in legal teams where communication hasn’t been happening, leading to a disjointed and contentious relationship between the in-house legal team and the business. The business is confused or in the dark about how the project is going, so it leads to frustration and extra pressure being put on the legal team. If the legal team regularly communicates to the business about the project, the positive actions that have been achieved, what stumbling blocks they need to overcome, and negotiates what deadlines can be adjusted over time- this can lead to a closer working relationship (and of course a less contentious one).
So it’s important to decide in these kick-off meetings how the business and the legal team will want to communicate with one another on progress. For example how often will the business want updates and in what format – for example meetings or reports.
The importance of kick-off meetings should not be underestimated, and neither should the role of project managers . This can be an opportunity to learn from past mistakes, grow the relationship between the in-house legal team and the business, and manage expectations of how the project will progress. A legal project manager can ensure this is documented / recorded, followed through and ultimately that the project is completed on time and within budget, leading to increased revenue for the business.
This article was contributed by Dee Tamlin.
Dee Tamlin, Head of Legal Project Management at Pinsent Masons Vario