The law firm environment is like none other: often, marketers and strategists from outside of the legal profession fail miserably within the legal environment because they find the partnership environment slow and overly complex. Successfully working with law firms requires an acute understanding of their business model and the lawyer personality.
For the most part, lawyers like their autonomy and are fearful of change. But they do understand precedent and evidence. They are logical and analytical. For such individuals, change is best achieved through the development of logical strategy.
What is a Strategic Plan?
A strategic plan is a declaration of a firm’s longer term business goals: how big it will be, what practice areas it will have, where it will reside, what will its client base will look like, how it will manage itself, how it will differentiate itself in the marketplace, how will it use technology, what kind of staff will it have, etc.
A strategic plan is seen by most industries as a critical business tool because through its very existence, it guides all day to day business decisions by ensuring they are aligned with an organization’s long-term business goals.
A strategic plan sets boundaries in place: this is who we want to be. It allows people to opt in or out of the firm dependent on their commitment to that vision. It enables a firm to more easily make decisions based on whether or not those choices support the firm’s longer term intentions. A strategic plan makes running a firm more transparent, easier, and usually far more cost effective.
This means there is less guess work around what a firm or practice should and shouldn’t do; there is less wastage in funding activities; there is less times spent on useless activities; and there is a filter through which all new opportunities can be run to determine if they might be of value to the practice or firm. A strategic plan provides incredible focus to a firm; allowing it to put all emphasis on the identification of and delivery on its business objectives.
How is a Strategic Plan Created?
Different strategists have different processes. From years of experience in working with law firms, here is mine:
I interview every lawyer in the firm, taking them each through a series of questions that help me to understand the firm from the inside out, and at various years of experience and commitment.
I conduct a competitive analysis based on the lawyers’ identification of the firm’s competition.
I conduct extensive analysis of the firm’s statistics and billing information, to better understand the realities and shifts of the firm’s business over time.
If agreed on by the firm, I conduct client interviews to get an outsider’s perspective on the firm.
I create a summary of findings for review with the partners.
Based on this, I draft a strategic plan for review by the partners.
The process time varies but generally takes about three months from start to finish.
During the research and analysis phase, I develop an understanding for what the duration of the strategic plan period should be – anywhere from 3 – 10 years. For example, it may become clear that a partnership finds it difficult to think and plan too far in advance. In such an instance, I would recommend a shorter strategic plan period such as three years. In some instances, a dramatic change might be planned – for example a move from a first to a second generation firm over the coming 8 years. In such an instance I might suggest a longer strategic plan period, such as 8-10 years.
Once a strategic plan has been developed and approved, it serves as a blueprint for annual planning. The next step is to create and business objectives for the first year of the program – then to develop corresponding operational and marketing plans, and to implement. For more on planning and implementation, click here.