Scheduling and management of deadlines is one of the most difficult things we do as lawyers. Why should this be the case? People in today’s world are busy. And when you are tasked with coordinating the work schedules of several busy people on a project, it is challenging. The other thing is simply this – there is a human tendency to procrastinate, which must be constantly overcome in any organization.
Below are seven considerations that a project manager needs to ponder when attempting to schedule the progress of a project that involves multiple lawyers and the client.
(1) When is the deadline? Double check.
People make mistakes. You don’t want to make a mistake about a deadline. Double check.
(2) What are the component tasks in the project?
Be realistic when breaking the project down into tasks. Make the list in conjunction with the people who are actually going to be doing the work.
(3) Do the tasks have to be done in a certain sequence, or can certain tasks be happening simultaneously?
I will never understand why some firms wait until all the writing is done to start gathering exhibits for a motion. As the writing progresses the writer is identifying which 125 page leases she needs, etc. This information should be imparted to the paralegal on the project as you go along.
(4) Who does what task?
It can save a lot of time and hassle if you establish ahead of time who exactly is responsible for what.
(5) How long does each task take?
Again, be realistic. Get estimates from the people who will actually be doing the work. Make sure that two people are not simultaneously doing the same task, or that no one is doing a particular task.
(6) What are the constraints?
“Constraints” are the problems that will get in the way of your schedule. For example, if the associate who has to draft something has another deadline, if the partner who is supposed to review the papers will be on trial, or if the client who needed to review and sign the papers has a vacation scheduled.
Flush out possible constraints and you will save yourself tons of problems.
(7) Do you need any special tools for a task?
Say you have a large draft of important opposition papers for a client and perhaps the client’s in-house counsel to review. The client not only wants to see your draft, but the original motion papers, the complaint, and a large contract. Emailing large documents often fails and it can also be confusing if too many emails go back and forth and no one is sure they are looking at the same documents.
In situations like this we post the relevant documents to a secure online space where the lawyers and the clients can access the same documents. If you need to contact your tech department ahead of time to get such a space set up, it makes sense to include this tool in your plans early.
Below is an example of an associate and I planning exactly how we are going to use the next six weeks to get a brief done on time:
Why Wouldn’t Everyone Work This Way All the Time? And The Real Costs of Not Working this Way
There are many tomes, much more detailed and scholarly than this, which can explain to you how to schedule a project. What I like to think that my work adds, not just to the topic of scheduling and deadline management, but to the whole of the body of LPM, is an exploration of why things in the legal profession typically never get done this way, and how we can look at things different and bring about positive change.
In real life, the associate tasked with creating the schedule chart is already busy. She has not only standing assignments, but things that pop up unexpectedly. When I go and ask her if she has completed the scheduling chart for the Smith Motion, her internal reaction might be this: “I am very busy here. Why are you hassling me about an excel chart, Michelle? In the time it takes me to contact the client and check Jay’s schedule and make a color coded chart, I could be researching and writing. You are adding busy-work to my life, Michelle”
There are several answers to this criticism, i.e. to this cognitive resistance.
(1) If, in your mind, you divorce basic project management procedures from the legal work, then you are doing a great disservice to yourself and the client. Why? Because making sure that you successfully meet a deadline IS legal work, and it is just as important as research and writing. Lawyers who hold themselves above what they consider administrative detail and lock themselves in a tower of intellect (I want a dime for every guy like this I have met in my career) are learning throughout the legal industry that there is great beauty in the details, not just in the big thoughts. In other words, if your big thoughts are encapsulated in a sloppy set of papers that missed the deadline, then those thoughts may well be ignored by the court.
(2) It is both impressive and comforting to a client to get a chart like the one above. It says to the client that you are very much on top of the project.
(3) It is not enough to simply meet a deadline. It is important to be able to meet a deadline comfortably. By that I mean that it is a drag to always be in crisis mode, to always be rushing toward the next ill-planned for deadline. This creates a culture of tension and blame in a firm. Making a thoughtful chart, like the one above, helps instill grace under pressure.
Labels: Ch. 15 - Deadline Management