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Legal Project Management Software: design for use by legal service clients

Some features of software applications dedicated to assist with legal project management are:

  1. Quick creation of legal matter plans, often based on templates (which can be adapted on the fly if required)
  2. Integration with Practice Management Systems (PMS) so that, for example, time records can be captured during matter progress
  3. Automatic creation of an initial matter budget during matter inception, with the first cut of the budget being derived from similar matter data held in the PMS (the initial suggested budget can of course be refined by the legal project manager if desired)
  4. Assignment of matter tasks and activities to legal team members
  5. Legal team members able to report on how much of the tasks assigned to them have been completed
  6. High level dashboarding capability so that the legal project manager, and others, can easily see matter and (if desired) lower-level task status
  7. Comprehensive reporting capability
  8. Easy communications with clients (usually implemented via a chat screen and / or embedded emails).

All the above features are great ones to have.

As with all software, there is always room for further development. In this post I’d like to raise a few ideas about further development of legal project management software.

Let’s start by zooming out and consider what I believe is the key purpose of legal project management.


Narrowing the client service gap

I think the fundamental purpose of legal project management is to help narrow the gaps between legal service delivery providers and their clients.

Legal service providers often believe their clients experience great legal service, while the clients disagree.  It follows that legal project management software should help reduce these gaps.

I have written about the client service gaps several times before (see this post from December 2016 and this post from April 2017).  The gaps are still with us.

For example, the recent Blickstein Report on Legal Pricing and Legal Project Management (h/t to my IILPM colleague Cat Moon for bringing this report to my attention) finds there is a 37 point gap between law firms and their clients about how well law firms understand client problems.  94% of law firm respondents believe that law firms make strong effort to understand client problems, whereas only 57% of client respondents agree (in this survey, the clients were in-house legal teams).

The Blickstein Survey also finds that  83% of law firm respondents believe law firm technology benefits law firm clients, whereas only 52% of clients agreed (a 31 point gap).

The Survey also shows that only 57% of the law firms surveyed regularly track client satisfaction levels.  Similarly the Clio Legal Trends Report of 2018  found that 42% of law firms surveyed ‘only collected client feedback carelessly and 37% said they did not collect client feedback at all’.  These surveys are in line with other survey data I have reported on previously (see this post from May 2016).

This group of surveys report the same thing: law firms are not very diligent at tracking client satisfaction levels and taking meaningful action in light of their tracker findings.

I have never understood why law firms do not pay more attention to this.  If you don’t know how satisfied your clients are, how do you know whether and where you can improve your client service?


Greater client engagement required

As noted above, I think the main purpose of legal project management is to help narrow the client service gap.  Legal project managers do this by such things as helping to scope matters properly and communicating clearly and consistently with all key stakeholders throughout the matter lifecycle.

Much of the leading legal project management software does help support these activities, but I think more could be done.

From my perspective, and I might be wrong, I think what is lacking is greater client engagement during the legal service delivery itself.  I think this may be particularly relevant where clients are in-house legal teams, staffed by fellow legal service professionals.

To help close the client service gap, what we need is to improve client interaction, collaboration, and feedback.

One way of looking at this is to say that legal project management software should aim to satisfy the needs of law firm clients as much, if not more, than law firms.


Improved client interaction

From a technical point of view, clients have long had the ability to login to their legal service provider and view matter progress.

Frankly, the main barrier preventing greater client interaction in this way has been the reluctance of law firms to become more transparent and share matter status data with their clients.  This is changing but overall progress is still slow, I think.

What do I mean by client interaction?  Viewing matter status is fine, but it’s a limited form of interaction.  The same can be achieved by sending out matter status reports regularly.

An example of more dynamic client interaction would be making the legal teams’ work product available for review and, if required, updating by clients in real time as part of the matter workflow.

Greater interaction should flow both ways.  Quite a lot of delay in legal service work is caused by waiting for clients to complete their actions.  So why not have client actions as workflow tasks for clients to do, with automated chases and reminders to the client that a task is waiting to be done?


Moving matters forward

The key thing to note here is that the workflow tasks are more than placeholders in electronic diaries.  Each task should have as its output something which positively moves the matter forward.  Meaningful task execution is another feature of classic workflow technology which has been available for a long time.

Hence if there is a task ‘prepare an NDA’ the system should be able to produce the draft NDA for the lawyer and client to review.  The same should be true for more complex legal documents too, with the system having document assembly and document management capability.

In reality different software may be working behind the scenes to produce and manage the contracts electronically, but the result should be displayed to legal service teams and their clients via the consistent interface of the legal project management software.


Client collaboration

As most of us have experienced over the last year or so, being able to share and amend documents live on screen during virtual meetings helps foster greater team interaction and collaboration.

We have got used to sharing our screens and having discussions via video cam using applications such as Zoom and MS Teams.  This capability should also be embedded in legal project management software.  Under the hood, the service may be supplied by MS Teams, Zoom or anything similar.  It should not matter which software is being used so long as the principle of working with a consistent interface (see above) is followed.


The continuous feedback button

If clients can access the legal team’s workflow, it should also be possible for them to leave quick feedback about their client experience.

This needs to be kept simple, otherwise clients are not going to use it.  A simple RAG (Red, Amber, Green) traffic light system should be enough to provide both instantaneous feedback and longer-term tracking of client satisfaction.  At set intervals the client would have a workflow task to select the client satisfaction gauge and set the colour.

If you wanted something more sophisticated a Net Promoter Score (NPS) pop-up could be available for completion by clients at the end of every matter.

Incidentally, NPS adopters are often advised to complement NPS analysis with other metrics (such as the quick RAG traffic light system perhaps) to acquire more comprehensive understanding of client / customer experience and feedback.


Legal Project Management Software – some suggestions for helping to narrow the client service gap

The most fundamental principle of technology product management is to identify market need and build products which meet that need.  Both law firms and their clients should want to use technology which helps improve the client experience.

As the Blickstein survey report shows, this is not achieved often.  It is easy to see why.  Legal software vendors focus on their immediate clients – law firms mostly – rather than their customers clients, the purchasers of legal services.

When seeking to go beyond the current feature set of legal project management software, perhaps vendors should find out more about that what law firm clients want and implement that.

I have always thought that workflow capability is an important part of the legal project management toolset.  I would like to see a move away from creating schedules where project tasks are simply diary placeholders.  I’d like to see these replaced with schedules made up of meaningful tasks, which execute legal work electronically, producing project outputs moving matters forward.

Not all of this needs to be done by the legal project management software itself.  Specialist software applications can perform discrete tasks.  Real time task execution and progress could then be communicated in the context of the matter plan created by, and displayed in, the legal project management software.

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