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  • Melanie Farquharson

Management of Legal Work – Case Management, Matter Management and Legal Project Management

“The appetite for project management and process management tools and methods appears to be off the scale,” according to the recent Legal Support Network research, Legal IT Landscapes 2015 Top 100 firms report 1 . However, the research uncovers some confusion (and possibly difference of understanding between vendors and law firms) about what is meant by matter management and legal project management. In our experience at 3Kites Consulting, it is certainly the case that, although case management 2 is a well-recognised concept, people mean different things by matter management and legal project management. We attempt to illustrate our understanding of these terms in the diagram below.

In our view, it is important to be clear that one size does not fit all in this area. There is a vast difference between, on the one hand, the management of extremely large matters or purely advisory work where there may be low predictability and where the matter manager (MM) is likely to be working mainly on one/very few matters and, on the other hand, high volume or high predictability matters, where the MM is likely to be managing a large portfolio of matters.

In a firm which operates right across this spectrum attempting to introduce a single solution – particularly a single technology – across the board is likely to result in too great a compromise 3. At the high volume end, where seconds count, there may be an impact in terms of system performance. At the other end the challenge is to provide a system which demonstrably improves productivity, without introducing unnecessary inflexibility and frustration.

We are also very conscious that technology is not always the answer – certainly not the whole answer. Improving matter management and efficiency (and thereby ultimately profitability) may require a combination of tools and approaches. The challenge here for firms is to introduce such a matter management initiative as a coherent whole and to ensure that all its aspects are adopted. This is much easier when everything is delivered through a new system, but outside the area of guided case management for high volume/high predictability work, there needs to be a benefit to the user in adopting a technology solution to manage their work. Otherwise they will work around the system – carrying on managing their work directly from Outlook whilst tumbleweed blows through the matter management system.

What are the components of managing legal matters?

At 3Kites we like to boil things down to their most basic level in order to be sure there is a common understanding of what we are talking about. So at the most basic level, what does the management of legal work involve? In our view, it includes the following key components:

1. Matter initiation – the administrative processes necessary to kick off a matter, including opening a file in the firm’s systems, agreeing engagement terms, and carrying out conflict and risk management checks,

2. Estimating the costs of the matter, based on an understanding of the likely phases and tasks entailed in the work and experience of previous similar matters,

3. Following the right process - knowing where to start, what questions to ask and what to do next in order to deliver the work efficiently,

4. Ensuring that the right precedents and template documents are used, rather than starting from a blank sheet of paper,

5. Ensuring that those working on the matter are aware of all the necessary factual background and are kept up to speed with how the matter is progressing and the issues arising,

6. Allocating tasks to the right level in the organisation (or to an outsourced service) and monitoring completion of those tasks,

7. Keeping on top of issues and progress in order to ensure nothing is missed,

8. Keeping on top of the costs against the budget/estimate in order to be able to address any overruns and identify work which is out of scope easily,

9. Reporting to the client periodically on issues, progress and costs 4 , and

10. Delivering the bill(s).

The diagram below attempts to illustrate how these components are currently often addressed at the two ends of the spectrum.

As can be seen from the diagram above, whilst case management systems are capable of addressing to a significant degree all 10 aspects of matter management at one end of the spectrum, at the other end, there is typically a mixture of solutions addressing the different aspects of matter management.

Many firms have been tempted to try to use a business process workflow tool to deliver both the high volume case management and the broader business processes across the board, such as matter initiation and, sometimes, billing. This can prove to be a very expensive and time consuming approach and often results in compromises (such as a slower performing system) at the high volume end, which is where there is least room to tolerate inefficiency. Conversely, other firms have used case management systems to deliver matter management functionality and have struggled with user adoption due to the natural tendency of these products to be more aligned with prescriptive rather than elective legal process models. Even products designed to sit in the middle ground can run the risk of satisfying no-one unless the firm chooses very deliberately to implement them differently for different work types.

In our view, the area where firms can make most difference at the low volume end of the spectrum is in the financial management of matters, by providing assistance with estimating, and then real time financial information matching the build-up of work in progress (WIP) against each phase defined in the matter estimate (provided of course that time recording is kept up to date). An example of this kind of matter dashboard can be found in the Appendix to this paper.

This dashboard approach can be made more effective by building a matter map, identifying the phases and common tasks necessary to complete each type of matter and considering so far as possible which tasks should be delegated to which levels of experience (and therefore cost) for optimum efficiency. Creating a template for estimating the costs on such matters, based on the agreed levels of delegation, will then provide valuable support for the fee earner in producing accurate estimates. It can be a challenging task, but repays the effort. Matching the actual build-up of WIP against the phased estimate enables the matter manager to see quickly where work is not being done at the right level or is taking longer than expected. Delivering this information though a matter dashboard is often a big step forward in supporting matter management. Referring back to the actual time taken on matters of the same type can then be very useful in tracking performance and building up experience in a way that can inform future cost estimates.

The dashboard can then be developed to include a link to relevant checklists, standard documents and other know how relevant to each phase of the matter. It can also link to other business processes (such as billing) and to tools and templates for communicating with the matter team to keep them up to date with progress. In some cases it may be helpful to have elements of task allocation and monitoring, which may be free form or, at certain points on the spectrum, multiple choice, with some form of ‘nagware’ to chase for completion of these tasks. For some worktypes, more experienced lawyers can elect when to use parts of the guided process and when to run the process manually. Delivering all these things through a single portal (with access through to the underlying systems for more detail) makes it easier to train lawyers in matter management because it starts to deliver a coherent tool and a place to go to manage their matters. Training on the principles of legal project management will be required alongside this, however 5 .

Melanie Farquharson, 3Kites Consulting, January 2015

3Kites Consulting is a limited company registered in England and Wales. Registered number: 5644909. Registered office: Chancery House, 30 St John’s Road, Woking, Surrey, GU21 7SA.

2 In some firms the case management system also covers elements of practice management such as accounting, time recording and billing, as well as document management.

3 Although at least one case management vendor, claims it is trying to address the matter management end of the spectrum by extending its case management product.

4 For some firms the whole area of reporting and provision of management information to clients can become a disproportionate task and anything that can be done to capture the information automatically to free up the lawyer to do the legal work will add to efficiency.

5 For more on legal project management in law firms, see our earlier article, ‘Are law firms serious about legal project management?’

© Copyright 3Kites Consulting Limited 2015


For more information about the matter dashboard, see our article: Driving efficiency in law firms - delivering more for less .

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