Insight:

Don’t Let Your Law Firm Strategic Plan Become A Very Expensive Bookend!

Don's let your law firm strategic plan be a bookend.

My firm was recently retained by a law firm client to assist with defining their Strategic Plan. During the “interview stage” of our relationship, the Managing Partner went to great lengths to have me explain my process and style. We had numerous meetings (more than I believe any lawyer would think was reasonable if the situation were reversed) but still I persevered. I knew that there was a reason underlying their reluctance to sign on the dotted line although I understood that it was not about my firm (they had already told me that we were the consultants with whom they wanted to work.) So we all took a leap of faith and we were retained for the strategy project (plus a lot more.)

So once the confidentiality agreement was signed, as we do with all of our clients, I requested as much background material as they could provide so we could understand where the firm had been, and where they were now, so we could assist them with discovering the road to where they should go next. To say I was surprised when I received over six inches of paper in binders labeled “Strategic Planning” is an understatement. I was told that this was the final work product of the numerous consultants they had retained over the past two decades to help them to come up with their strategic plan. Please believe me when I say that this “work product” must have cost them a hundred thousand dollars in fees not including the opportunity cost of the time of the partners involved in the process.

And where had these binders been kept? Well where many law firm strategic plans find themselves – sitting on a shelf gathering dust. A glorified bookend!

And then I understood to what the fear related and why it had originated it in the first place. They were suffering from the symptoms of going through the strategic planning process again and again without true implementation. They knew that the future success of the firm was reliant on developing a meaningful plan but were gun shy to go through the process again. To say the rest of the partnership was skeptical is an understatement. Clear action items, accountability, measurability and quick successes were going to be key.

How To Implement a Law Firm Strategic Plan

So how can you ensure that you will successfully implement your strategic plan? A good place to start is with the following:

  • Ensure commitment at the most senior level to developing AND implementing the firm wide strategic plan.
  • Work with a professional resource (whether internal or external) who has not only experience in high level strategic planning but an ability to demonstrate long-term implementation success.
  • Make certain that all partners understand that success lays with each of them not just those on the Executive or Strategic Planning Committee.
  • Ensure a cross section of the partnership is at the table, not just the firm executive committee, as they may be cognizant of issues that may not be top of mind for you e.g. succession planning or recruiting.
  • Include your Director of Administration (or equivalent) in the process. Many of the goals may impact the day to operations of your firm and their insight (and commitment to execution) may be the difference in the success or failure of your plan.
  • If you have a business development or marketing resource, ask for their input into the plan. Clients will be at the forefront of your growth and you’ll need their experience and assistance with execution.
  • Build a list of specific action items out of your goals and ensure that partners are accountable for them within a given timeframe.

If you already have a strategic plan but like many others, it’s sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust for a number of years, pick it up but don’t throw it out. There may be some good starting points for your business planning. If not, make sure you share it with any consultants you work with so they have a jump on firm thinking at the start of the process.

Remember that a strategic plan is a living document that should evolve over time as both internal circumstances and external market drivers change. A Strategic Plan is never “finished” – it’s just ready for implementation.

This article first appeared on slaw.com, Oct 23rd, 2014
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