3 project management tips for the new in-house lawyer

As in-house legal counsel, the days of abandoning your knowledge and navigating your own way as an external legal counsel are over. More often than not, it’s up to you to implement systematic changes to ensure compliance with new laws, which is where project management comes in.

Admittedly, project management is a skill that I did not develop much before going in-house. I guess an argument could be made that managing your own file and affairs and (re)prioritizing them is a form of project management, and I certainly did that as the firm’s lawyer. But it wasn’t until I became a corporate lawyer that I got real project work like creating online training and conducting a full audit.

If you’re new to in-house and find yourself in charge of a project, here are some tips. And for those of you who are true pros and project management purists, I apologize in advance. I’m neither, but I’m a big fan of doing things as efficiently as possible.

Without a doubt, your manager, who entrusts you with the project, is a key player. And you probably already know how often you need to communicate with them and how much detail you need to provide. But there are probably other people or parts of the organization that need to be involved or that may be affected by the project, such as decision makers or customers. For example, when I worked on creating online training, I involved human resources, the corporate investigations team, diversity and inclusion, and talent development. When building a list, think about how often you need to update them or get their input. It may depend on their level in the company.

It’s a must. The main reason for project failure is weak or incomplete requirements. I also don’t like scope creep. When you are asked to lead a project, take the time to understand the purpose of the project. What problem is your proposed project trying to solve? What is the expected deliverable? Who is the audience or end user? What is the deadline, the budget? The more questions you can ask early on for clarification, the better. Just as important as determining what is included, it is also important to know what is excluded. What was considered and excluded? And don’t forget to get everyone’s alignment on the staff.

Beyond taking notes at each of your meetings, I recommend keeping a running list of decisions made and the rationale behind them. I know that sounds like extra work, but if you don’t, you run the risk of revisiting decisions made – either because people forget, or more often it happens when stakeholders are informed or brought in asynchronously. Even if people remember the decisions made, there may be an overhaul of the analysis, which is why it’s helpful to include rationale on your list.

Meyling Mey Ly OrtizMeyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is an intern at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentorship, membership promotion and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and pursuing her best on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew it was coming: her opinions are hers alone.