Project Management in Legal Practice

Project management of legal matters is becoming more common in the increasingly competitive legal market with law firms seeking the benefits that project management processes and techniques provide in managing client expectations and reducing risk. Here is a basic framework for the scoping, scheduling and costing of a client matter.


The first step in project managing a matter is defining the scope. The key considerations include engaging with the client to:

  • develop the specific matter objectives;
  • agree on the inclusions and exclusions;
  • clarify and resolve assumptions, constraints, external factors and risks; and
  • identify all the work that must be performed to create the deliverables (deliverables are the physical products that need to be created and could be as simple as a letter of advice or as complex as a contract for the sale of a cattle property). 

Below is a checklist of the questions which may be asked and resolved at the commencement of a matter: 

  • What is the client’s primary objectives/outcomes for the matter?
  • Are there any supporting objectives?
  • What is the rationale for proceeding with the matter?
  •  Are there any constraints on time and budget?
  • Is there an imperative to complete the matter in a specified time frame?
  • What are the client’s priorities if scope, time, costs or quality need to be compromised?
  • What is known about the other parties’ legal representation?
  • What skills and expertise are required?
  • Has the firm done anything similar in the past?
  • Who is available to work on the matter?
  • What are the major risks to successfully completing the matter?
  • What action can be taken by the client to reduce costs?
  • What are the client’s preferences for management of variations to the matter?
  • What are the client’s preferences for progress reports?
  • Do other stakeholders have objectives relating to the matter?


Variations to the scope are inevitable in most legal matters due to changes to the agreed inclusions, exclusions, assumptions, constraints, risks and external factors. Managing the variation process is critical to ensuring the client’s expectations are also managed. Below are some tips for managing variations to the scope:

  • outline and agree on the variation process so everyone knows how and when to raise variations;
  • obtain formal instructions from the client before undertaking variations, particularly those which cannot be absorbed into contingency;
  • assess variations for impact on scope, time, costs and quality and discuss with the client; and
  • clearly discuss and document scope inclusions and scope exclusions, and all variations during the course of the matter.

Once the scoping of matter has been completed the next step is scheduling the matter.


This involves:

  • defining and sequencing the activities that underpin the deliverables identified in the matter scoping; 
  • considering resource allocation and requirements for each activity;
  • constructing the matter schedule by connecting all activities; and
  • determining the matter duration in the matter schedule.

The deliverables established in the matter scoping need to be broken down into activities. Activities are the tasks required to be performed to produce the deliverable. Solicitors are hard wired to think in activities and it requires discipline to develop the deliverables first.

The following considerations need to be taken into account when identifying activities:

  • What quality assurance activities are required?
  • Are there any existing precedents that can be reused?
  • Do other parties (internally or externally) need to be consulted?
  • What review and sign-off activities are required?

After identifying the activities which underpin the deliverables the next step in scheduling a matter is to estimate the duration of each activity and link them together to create the matter schedule. Generally, the best person to estimate the duration of each activity is the person who will be performing the activity.

Before attempting to estimate the duration an understanding of the difference between effort and duration is required. Effort is the energy applied to activities which lead to the creation of the deliverable. Duration is the time that it takes to complete the activities that lead to the creation of the deliverable.

Some guidance on effort and duration can be gained by referring to recently completed matters and reflecting on the following:

  • Has someone expended more effort than was necessary on an activity or deliverable?
  • Has someone failed to deliver on time?
  • Were there estimating errors made which impacted other work or resulted in excessive additional hours having to be worked?

Matter schedule

After calculating the effort and duration of each activity, the matter schedule is ready for development.

The main scheduling steps include:

  • creating the initial matter schedule by including all deliverables identified in the matter scoping;
  • expanding the matter schedule by defining and sequencing the activities and considering the interrelationships between them. To ensure progress can be readily monitored, activities should not be longer than one week or shorter than one day in duration;
  • enhancing the matter schedule by including the activities required to reduce the impact of major risks associated with the matter and the quality activities such as selection of precedents, reviewing drafts and signoff. Major matter milestones should be included to help stay on schedule; and
  • monitoring and controlling the schedule by saving a version of the schedule as a benchmark to compare actual progress against the original schedule. The matter schedule is controlled by undertaking corrective and preventative action such as adding resources and reassigning activities.