What Is a Project Charter?

A project charter can be a useful project management tool for the practice of law. The charter is the authorizing document for a project. It contains information describing the scope of the project, a rough estimate of its cost, the value of the project to the organization, and a basic description of the internal and external resources needed to complete the project. The document also identifies known stakeholders in the project as well as the project’s objectives.

An interesting aspect of the project charter is that it provides a basic description of what success looks like and identifies deliverables and objectives. While deliverables probably would not be relevant in most legal project charters, a description of objectives certainly would be. The project charter is signed by the project sponsor. This authorizes the project manager to do the project.  It is through the project charter that the project plan is created and money budgeted.

Project Charter and the Practice of Law

  1. What Is a Project Charter?
  2. How Lawyers Can Use a Charter?
  3. Additional Charter Benefits For a Law Firm
  4. Things to Watch Out for When Using a Project Charter

How Lawyers Can Use a Project Charter?

In modified form, a project charter can be adapted to some aspects of a law practice, perhaps as part of or attached to a retainer agreement. There are a couple of scenarios where a project charter might be helpful. In a case for the purchase of a business, where a client is looking to fit a prospective purchase with other businesses they currently operate, a document created with their lawyer outlining the strategic fit of such a business within their portfolio (from a legal perspective) could be helpful.

I am not advocating that the lawyer start providing business advice to a client, however, it would be a good idea to discuss where aspects of a purchase would fit from a corporate entity standpoint, a tax standpoint, or how intellectual property portfolios might mesh. This could provide a strategic baseline for the transaction that could be important if some of these assumptions change during negotiation or due diligence.

A charter would also be helpful since it could provide a first cut at estimating the scope of the transaction, the level of effort and cost. Having this initial look at issues relating to the transaction might provide good information to a client as to whether to proceed or walk away. It could also provide the clients other business advisors, such as accountants and business advisors with information that will allow them to better advise your client.

Additional Project Charter Benefits for a Law Firm

Another area that comes to mind for the potential use of a project charter could be where your client is contemplating filing a lawsuit against an intellectual property infringer. There, the strategic direction of the potential lawsuit, the goals sought to be achieved when matched against the costs and strategic risks associated with a such an action could provide vital insight as to whether and how your client should proceed. For example, balancing the risks of starting a patent infringement action against the risk of a counterclaim seeking to invalidate the patent or an antitrust action seeking damages or an injunction from misuse of the patent.

Many of these things are done by firms all the time. An advantage of doing them in the context of a project charter is that you are discussing these issues in a business language that your client can readily understand. In essence, by creating such a charter, in plain language, you are meeting them half-way, providing a legal framework for a proposed course of action described in a business context. This could be extremely valuable to your client.

Things to Watch Out for When Using a Project Charter

There are risks associated with this type of document. The first thing a lawyer should be mindful of is the possibility that any discussions of business strategy could be viewed as non-legal work and thus not covered by the attorney-client privilege. In creating a charter for your project, a lawyer needs to be careful to limit it to legal advice and related legal strategy.

Build Your Project Management Knowledge

A project charter can be a useful tool for a lawyer. It can be used to clarify the objectives, costs, and potential risks of a legal matter. It is also a useful tool in lawyer-client communication.

Continue to learn more about project management techniques. RMC’s PM Crash Course in a book or online PM Crash eLearning course gives non-project management professionals an excellent foundation in predictive and agile methods so you so you can apply them to your job immediately.