Who your law firm should hire next

(Spoiler alert: it isn’t a lawyer, a paralegal, or a secretary.)

If your firm is facing the prospect of pay cuts, furloughs, or even layoffs, hiring may be the last thing on your mind.  But now is the time to think strategically about how your firm should look when it’s time to ramp back up.

It’s tempting to think you’ll need more traditional “timekeepers.”  That’s where the money’s made, right?  Along those lines, when George and I started our most recent round of hiring, we assumed we needed a paralegal.  But when we stepped back to consider our actual business needs, we realized we weren’t necessarily looking for the traditional definition of a paralegal–which, according to the ABA, is:

a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.

As a technology-driven firm, we’ve automated a lot of our legal work.  For example, since I can draft standard discovery requests in about 10 seconds with the help of TextExpander, it’s faster for me to do the work than delegate it.

We dug deep to determine what we’re really looking for and came up with this list:

  • Managing complex projects, transactions, and litigation
  • Organizing complex files and datasets
  • Helping lawyers keep matters on track and manage client expectations
  • Proactively scoping, planning, budgeting, executing, and evaluating legal matters
  • Communicating with clients, witnesses, court staff, other law firms, and government officials about the status of matters
  • Helping improve the quality, content, and consistency of client communications
  • Developing and refining pricing strategies for various types of matters
  • Reviewing and assessing analytics from previous matters to assess and improve profitability

This list immediately struck a chord with me, as it reminded me of my first job: project management at an ad agency.  My job was to make sure our web development team completed all of its projects on time and on budget.  This allowed my team to put their headphones on for hours at a time and crank out code and Photoshop files, uninterrupted by client calls or the constant worry of whether we were managing our resources optimally.  Meanwhile, I was talking to clients and keeping an eye on the progress of all our projects.

We realized that what we really need is me, from 15 years ago.  So we thought: what if we hired a legal project manager?

Legal project management is not just one more crazy idea from Campbell Teague–it’s a thing.  The ABA describes the discipline as

developing the tools and skills to proactively scope, plan, budget, execute, evaluate, and communicate about a given undertaking, whether it be delivering a product or a service.

Why you need a legal project manager

Probably the biggest reason: decision fatigue and switching costs.

I’m sure many lawyers can identify, but one of my biggest challenges is juggling deep work in my matters with managing my matters on a high level.  To really dig into the meat of a case, I need to carve out hours at a time and ignore all distractions.  But I’m usually in charge of 50+ matters at a time, each of which could need attention on any given day.  So I also need to be accessible to clients.  I also need to frequently review my matters to evaluate progress against objectives and decide next steps.  But taking off my lawyer hat and putting on my project manager hat isn’t a zero-sum game.  Constantly switching between these roles takes a real, data-backed toll on my productivity.  There are coping mechanisms for this problem, but a more long-term solution is getting a great legal project manager.

Other reasons:

  • Clients hate it when they have to reach out to their lawyers for status updates on their matters.  A legal project manager can own the process of routine client updates, so that your firm is reaching out before the client has to.
  • You need to know if you’re profitable.  If you do anything other than straight-up hourly billing, you need someone committed to constantly reviewing the data and determining if you’re making money or giving away your time.
  • It’s hard for any one lawyer to have a grasp on priorities that aren’t on his or her desk.  In contrast, a legal project manager can manage priorities firm-wide, and help allocate resources (i.e. lawyers/paralegals) optimally.

So you want to be a legal project manager?

We’re hiring!  Check out our job posting.

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