A law firm, like any business, faces the problem of project management. But law firm project management is different from the types of project management systems that you’ll find in other fields. Law offices are very specialized, both in the large sense–the scope of work of the firm itself–and in the small sense–the specialties of the lawyers and paralegals.
Making sure that each member of the legal services team gets the right projects at the right time is an important task, but it can be approached in many different ways.
Different Management Styles and Different Management Skills
There are several models of legal practice. Not one is more right than the other, but each will thrive or fail depending on the way it fits the personalities and skills of the legal professionals in the firm. Here are a few:
In the autocratic management style, one person makes all the decisions for the firm. Because of this, the autocratic approach is most often seen in small offices where one person has the capability and bandwidth to manage all the different factors affecting the firm. Often, in a larger office with an autocratic system, the leader works through an office manager to institute the plans and disperse them among all the other legal professionals.
There is a danger in an autocratic system that the leader can be tyrannical and can steer the firm in directions that the rest of the firm doesn’t wish to go, or that the leader will inappropriately disperse tasks and workload among the team.
On the other hand, in a small firm, this is often the best way to manage, especially when there is only one lead attorney and a handful of other employees working beneath them.
In democratic law firm practice management, all of the attorneys who work in the firm have a say in the policies and direction of the firm. In these situations, which are generally used in law firms with fifteen or fewer employees, all the attorneys vote on the business goals and project management.
Very often in these cases, the actual implementation of the attorneys’ decisions is done by a legal administrator.
Because consensus opinion is hard to reach, this can be a slow-moving process.
In a managing partner-led law firm, the managing partner, one of the owners, will be responsible for the management of the firm. Many responsibilities are delegated to paralegals or office managers, but all of the leadership comes from one individual.
This method of leadership is more often seen in medium-to-large firms, and the managing partner is very often a figurehead in the organization–someone whose name and reputation lends gravitas to the law firm, but who doesn’t get involved with day-to-day legal affairs and litigation. The managing partner is especially important in maintaining client relationships and managing legal public relations.
With an executive committee, the structure is similar to the democratic process, but the committee is made up of a select group of attorneys and staff, not all of the attorneys in the firm. This makes the committee more manageable and less unwieldy.
Individual committee members often oversee specific parts of the firm’s organization. For example, one attorney might be concerned solely with client relations while another oversees compensation and employee training, and another is responsible for technology and systems.
Find Out What Project Management System is Right for You
When it comes to client satisfaction, legal work, project management skills, and management software, there are many options to choose from, no matter which way your law firm is organized from the top down.