Certain types of legal work, such as e-discovery and due diligence, can be efficiently and successfully handled by project teams specifically assembled for that purpose. When structured and deployed properly, project teams provide law firms and corporate legal departments with much-needed flexibility while reducing costs. Project teams deliver expertise and legal assistance exactly when the law firm or legal department requires it.
The use of project teams also enables full-time staff to handle other cases and matters without the stress of juggling additional time-intensive duties. A team of lawyers and paralegals is particularly effective for projects of limited duration, such as an e-discovery initiative. A law firm or legal department can assemble a team composed of full-time staff and contract professionals to complete document review within court-imposed timeframes. To conserve internal resources even more, some projects lend themselves to a team composed entirely of contract personnel under the direction of just a few core staff members. Although project teams have clear advantages, it can be a challenge to set up and manage a team if you haven’t had prior experience.
The following suggestions can serve as a blueprint to help you put together a strong, productive team:
Have a Plan in Place – in Advance
Imagine your firm or legal department must review hundreds of thousands of electronic files as part of a major litigation case. The entire e-discovery process must be completed in two weeks’ time. In the face of such an urgent situation, it’s natural to feel there’s no time for planning. But even in an acute scenario, forethought and strategizing are essential. Begin by documenting key objectives, specific assignments to be completed and the deadlines for each objective. Next, determine whether adequate staffing resources are available in-house. If not, you may need to create a special team – either combined full-time staff and project professionals, or a team composed entirely of contract professionals.
It’s important to identify the necessary positions or roles on the team. In addition to the leader, you may need a variety of specialists to handle specific duties. These might include project managers, technology specialists, consultants, document reviewers and liaisons with firm or department attorneys.
Assemble the Team
A major initiative such as document review or e-discovery may require dozens of attorneys, paralegals and other support professionals. To find the most experienced professionals quickly, you may want to consider working with a staffing service that specializes in the legal field. The service would have an extensive network of contacts in the legal community and could help you quickly identify the right mix of professionals and put together a team. A specialized service can also provide a team supervisor who can work closely with the supervising attorney on the case.
Create a Setting for Success
Once the group is assembled, hold a kick-off meeting with all members to discuss the action plan. If the team is large, select someone to track completion of various tasks and distribute updates periodically to everyone in the group. Logistical issues should also be addressed, such as the locations where participants will work, how frequently status reports will be delivered and how problems will be managed. It’s critical that everyone knows the proper communication procedures in case questions or difficulties arise.
Depending on how the team is structured, there may be several co-leaders or a single coordinator who relays updates, questions and messages. If you are the firm or department’s liaison with the team, you may wonder how you’ll know when to step in and when to stay on the sidelines. There is no one right answer, and you may have to experiment with a few options (e.g., daily calls, weekly emails, biweekly face-to-face meetings, etc) to find the balance between micromanaging and being out of the loop.
Providing Ongoing Guidance
Even the most highly skilled team will inevitably encounter obstacles and problems during the course of a project. Deadlines may shift, the workload may be greater than anticipated or there may be tension among a few group members. If you are supervising the team, part of your job will be to make sure that such events do not build to a crisis point. Periodic conference calls and status meetings are a good way to ensure everyone is clear on current objectives and has adequate resources to complete upcoming tasks. You also can notify the team when outside factors, such as a change in trial date, will impact their work.
When putting together a project team, you need a clear vision, strong management skills and the ability to see both daily details and the big picture. With consistent support and guidance, the project teams you assemble will help your law office save money, maintain productivity and manage cases efficiently.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.