Legal project management - a method for saving your sanity

It’s late Friday afternoon, you’re watching a stream of colleagues leave the building for a team-building happy hour activity, and there you sit, with a thousand unfinished items on your to do list that were supposed to be done by close of business. You’re used to this, of course, because you work in legal and legal never closes. But, should that be the case? Probably not.

One chief legal officer told me recently he felt like every day going into work was like facing the moment in The Avengers when the bad guys are about to take over the world. Somehow, that made sense to me. Most in-house lawyers can probably relate to the feeling of being responsible for needing to prevent the total destruction of the known universe. And, let’s face it, in the famous words of that great philosopher, Gabriel (my colleague’s 8-year-old son), “if he gets his purple hands on all six infinity stones, he can destroy all life on Earth.” We definitely don’t want that to happen, not in a movie or in life.

To prevent the purple-handed villain from getting all six infinity stones, and because even corporate counsel need a break every now and then, here are some thoughts on how to avoid the pure insanity of feeling like you have to save the world every day.

First, you need to define your legal projects and/or approach to legal project management. The to do list is a fine place to start, but it’s only a start. What types of projects are on your plate. Litigation? Contract negotiation? HR investigations? Compliance? Government relations? Identity theft? Regulatory or statutory reporting? Identify the full set of projects. Not only is it a good management practice, but it’s cathartic and helps corporate counsel remember that there really is a finite list of things they need to do.

Second, prioritize the list of project types in a way that makes sense to you. Either by value, time requirements, SLAs, deadlines, or whatever is most meaningful in your context. This is helpful to create a sense of urgency for some matters, and a sense of relief that some do not represent an emergency (think: some projects are infinity stones, some are not).

Third, determine which of the legal project management types have the potential to be automated and tracked electronically. I’m not talking about email and spreadsheets here. I’m talking about any type of automated system that will help you get those items into a systematic, controlled environment, and off of your to do list on Friday.

Finally, consider a legal operations or legal project management software solution. A platform that can manage all the various types of projects you noted in step one above may not save the world from certain death and destruction. While no tool or software platform is the solution to every in-house lawyer’s endless list of deliverables, it’s possible that using this type of solution will help you save enough time and demonstrate enough efficiency that you’ll create an opportunity to join your colleagues in their Friday afternoon happy hour festivities. And, that really could be the equivalent of keeping all six infinity stones out of those dreaded purple hands.