Framing the project

LegalJob recently talked with a senior big firm partner about one practice that (if done correctly) adds a lot of value for the client right up front:  being able to correctly frame the project for a client.

Framing the project means that you are able to listen to the client's facts and what he or she thinks (or says) they need, parse out the relevant information, and turn those inputs into a clearly defined project (or a couple of projects) with definite and specific goals, timelines, cost estimates, and appropriate staffing (enough people and the right expertise).  If done correctly, this practice could save you a lot of time and help to keep the client happy.  Also, this practice could lead to developing more business over time as you learn to identify client needs in a precise way that creates projects for the law firm (while keeping the costs of those projects down).

In some cases, framing may not be necessary because the project is defined for you (for example when a client is being sued and you are engaged to defend him).  Even in this case, however, there are likely to be many smaller projects (with goals and deadlines) to be framed.  A case where framing may be necessary could be when a client is interested in restructuring its business affairs for a variety of corporate and tax reasons.  There are lots of moving parts to this project and the client would be well served if its lawyer spent some (non-billable time) coming up with the parameters (and priorities) for what should be done and the steps necessary to achieve the goals intended.

Here are some tips for successful framing:

  • Actively listen to your client.  The client may provide lots of information that may not be relevant to framing the project but that information is likely to be mixed in with information that is relevant.  So, listen closely to all the facts.
  • Ask questions that could lead to more relevant facts that the client is not disclosing.  There are generally several facts that are withheld (not intentionally).  Consider scheduling a separate meeting so that you have a chance to think about relevant questions so as not to waste the client's time with questions that are not as important.
  • Ask senior partners for advice about framing given your facts.
  • Explain to the client your mission of framing the project and the benefits that will result.  Perhaps he or she will be more patient with your questions and the process if they understand the benefits.
  • Smaller projects with specific timelines and goals are generally more manageable than mega projects.
  • Once you have framed the project, make sure it is staffed with the appropriate people (not too many and experts where needed).

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