Connecticut, US
Corona Life: How project management helps us deliver legal services and better baked goods
| Yekaterina Kolmogorova

Corona Life: How project management helps us deliver legal services and better baked goods

We all are project managers in life and in baking. During these unprecedented times, I have found that the skills I have developed throughout my career can be translated to home baking. That is, I used to always know what I wanted, I would use the same recipe again and again, and then I would bake something at which my spouse would grimace. I have now learned to start with, “What do you want me to bake?” and then checking my pantry before taking the bowls out.
 
Similarly, you might think that when a lawyer is entrusted with a project, they simply complete it as quickly as possible. They may be asked to run a research into the implementation of a specific EU Directive across the European Union, prepare a memorandum that covers transactional support across the world, run a due diligence check on the upcoming divestitures for a client or simply draft an advisory memo for management to act on. In reality a lawyer often has to do a lot of pre-work that helps them with building the desired product for the client, and that includes asking the client what they expect to receive.
 
Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (MECE)
 
Lawyers are trained and are ethically expected to be Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (MECE) in their advice to cover all points, caveats, and boilerplates. That frequently makes our matrices, memorandums, and emails complex for the business to absorb and act on. It also leads to a 300-plus-page document that will dust the backends of the client’s local server, never to be seen again.
 
While this MECE advice may be the end goal of some projects, the perception of the need to “cover it all” and the lawyers’ willingness to let the client lead the project side of things can cause low client satisfaction. Costs may also sometimes start off as hourly rates, until the client pleads for the costs control and a fixed fee is introduced as a result of a threat of project cancellation.
 
Legal project management is a skill that the sector has started to increasingly invest in, and Fragomen is already ahead of the curve. We customarily explore various ways to partner with our clients so we can deliver a high value product at a sensible cost and with the objectives that the client has in mind.
 
There are a few lessons learnt that we always observe as a priority:
 
  • Set the scope right
  • Work with your client
  • Know what plays against you
  • Have a plan
  • Do not jump without a parachute
 
 
Set the scope right
 
We know that clients do not value speed over quality and do not see these two attributes as mutually exclusive. Both are expected, but quality will prevail. This implies that we need to understand the client’s expectations before we start working on requests, making project scope management one of our pillars. We will get on a call, ask clarifying questions and understand the purpose of the end product. We may often propose alternative options to the client at this stage.
 
Determining the right scope of the service will also help to appropriately evaluate the overall project, including:
 
  • The amount of time the project will take
  • The players who should be involved and when they should participate
  • Estimated costs
 
 
Work with your client
 
In my experience, assuming client needs without confirming them is short sighted. It leads to issues with the end product. Often clients do not understand what they have been given and this raises a lot of questions and concerns. Working this way is both time consuming and ineffective from a cost perspective. It is far better to proactively work with your client to determine their needs.
 
Incidentally, by partnering closely with clients, we may also identify waste in our current workflow, which we can eliminate to make processes leaner, helping to maintain our reputation as a trusted partner with our clients.
 
Know what plays against you
 
There are a series of risks and constraints that each project will inevitably encounter, e.g., lack of team’s capacity to cover the project, prerequisite access to clients’ documents for review, lack of clear wishes from the client, need to consolidate numerous analyses into one document etc. When not accounted for, each one of these risks and constraints may potentially increase costs, cause delays, or lead to the overall inability to finalise the product. This is because when you do not expect challenges as part of the process, you are not prepared and you do more than necessary to respond.
 
Identifying risks and constraints is one of the key techniques of project management, aimed at preparing the response strategy for issues should they come up. We encourage our clients to be part of risk management planning and to agree on the risk-mitigating strategies together, particularly for big projects.
 
By sharing the established risk management plan openly with all appropriate stakeholders, we promote sufficient transparency around the plan and typically increase stakeholder buy-in. This helps us prepare our teams more quickly. We can also thoroughly respond to ad hoc enquiries and make smarter decisions faster.
 
We frequently revert to the lessons learnt from past projects, and see what risks were identified at the time, the challenges our peers and similar businesses faced and how they tackled them.
 
Have a plan
 
Whereas we are always eager to jump to the execution of work at this stage, we always follow a joint plan that our project team and clients follow.
 
We have also introduced interim catch up meetings with project teams that allows us to reflect and adjust the project as needed. This may potentially expedite the project completion date.
 
Do not jump without a parachute
 
Project management covers a large array of techniques that we alternate and “borrow” when working with different businesses and services. Each of them has introduced a unique way for tackling the post-COVID business landscape and it is critical that a dialogue takes place before parties jump straight into the execution of the project.
Understanding the client’s desired end result is equally important as understanding when a change in scope needs to be introduced to dynamically address deadlines or finances.
 
Having an open discussion about risk mitigation strategies and potential unknowns with the client in these fluid times can build stronger partnerships and help with bringing certainty and confidence in Fragomen’s ability to stay agile and alert. Agility in service delivery should entail building and adapting a product together with the client, by navigating them through best available options leveraging the lawyer’s expertise and known business risk appetites.