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Build a pause button into your matter management processes

One tactical approach to help implement legal project management successfully is to build and promote a focus point which everyone can relate to.  Something which will catch everyone’s attention and allow change agents to engage in meaningful conversations with colleagues about implementing change.

With this in mind, if you are tasked with implementing legal project management, consider building and promoting a ‘pause button’ as part of your new matter management processes.


Struggling to maintain focus

Staff working in law firms spend a lot of their time reacting to almost constant incidental change.

The kinds of changes I am thinking about might be matter related changes (such changing client requirements or changed tactics from the other side), infrastructure changes (such as new offices or new office configurations) or staffing changes (colleagues leaving, new colleagues starting or team re-organisations).

Dealing with all of this is hardly conducive to maintaining focus when rolling-out something new.  Reacting to unplanned change makes it difficult to concentrate on purposeful change, such as consciously applying legal project management techniques, the beneficial effects of which may not be apparent immediately.

To help counter this, people need something representative of purposeful change to focus on.  This is where the pause button comes in.


Pause then act

We all know what a pause button is.  Ever since the arrival of cassette tape reorders we have had an easy way of pausing the playing of music.  We hit the pause button to stop play while we do something else.  When we are ready to resume, we hit the resume button to pick up where we left off.

I think all legal matters, and especially the more complex legal matters, should have the concept of pause buttons built-in.

The effect of pressing them should trigger some specific behaviours: matter planning and review.


Why do we need a pause button?

It is still very common, especially early in the life cycle of legal matters, for lawyers to proceed at breakneck speed with the aim of demonstrating ‘client responsiveness’.

Unfortunately, this often means that matter planning is either done poorly or not at all.

This in turn almost inevitably means that further down the track a lot of the early time and effort spent on the matter is viewed as wasted time.  It then becomes difficult if not impossible to justify this wasted time, which means the poorly planned time gets written off.

Consider an alternative scenario.  When new matters come in, there is a pause button which lawyers and encouraged – indeed must – press.  During the short pause period they plan.

The initial plan could be done in the form of a Project Initiation Document (PID).  I have explained the nature and purpose of PIDs before, so I will not do so again here.  Suffice to say that a little bit of structured planning at matter inception can be of enormous value.

Similarly, lawyers should be encouraged to press the pause button at any time during matter progress.  To help with this, incorporate a pause button at some key milestones of typical matters.  The purpose of the pause button here it to facilitate matter review.  This should not be difficult to do.  Just stop and consider: is the matter is progressing as planned?  If not, why not and what can be done about it?


Building a pause button with workflow software

Given the prevalence of matter management workflow software, the easiest way of building a pause button is to have one embedded in the workflow.  I mean this quite literally.  You could build a pause button which users can press.  Pressing the button should activate tasks such as ‘Create a PID’ or ‘Review Matter’ as part of the process flow.

Alternatively, you could make the pause button self-activating.  Users wold not need to press the button, just complete the matter planning and review tasks presented to them.


Building a pause button in the absence of workflow software

Where workflow software is not used it should still be possible to build a pause button, but it may take a little more effort to make sure it is pressed.

You will need to spend some time here trying to change behaviours, but using simple tools such as matter checklists can help.  Incorporate the pause in the checklists.

Fee earners should also be trained to diarise the pressing of their pause button to conduct matter reviews once non-workflow driven matters are in-flight.  Perhaps one way of prompting this would be to have a section in the PID which requires fee earners to diarise matter reviews.

Another obvious alternative, if legal project managers are involved, is to task them with pressing the pause button at set intervals on behalf of their team.

Whatever your circumstances, you should be able to find ways and means of incorporating pause buttons as part of your matter management process.


The effect of building the pause button

Pausing to plan and thereafter review progress will result is more efficient and effective matter management.

Building a pause button should also provide a focus for any new legal project management initiative.  The concept of a pause button can be a useful communications and marketing tool, used to sell the LPM message internally.

So, thinking tactically, why not build pause button into your matter management processes and then do some internal marketing around the pause button concept?  You will have a story to tell and a prop to help engage colleagues in meaningful conversations about implementing change.

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