(This article first appeared in SLAW. While it’s no longer a “first of the year” piece, it still have value for those firms wondering if the pandemic will ever end, what business will look like on the other side, and whether they should be doing things differently now).
Despite hiccups on vaccine receipt and distribution, we now know that by the end of the year, there’s a very good chance we’ll all be back to normal. That means there’s still another considerable block of time to get through first. We don’t want to be in either survival or neutral mode forever. So as we finish weathering this storm, what should law firm strategy look like for the remainder of 2021?
First and foremost, stick to your longer-term strategic plan. The point of a strategic plan is to help guide a firm through the goods times, and the bad. In difficult times we may need to make adjustments, put stop-gap measures in place and lower expectations on growth and evolution for a period of time. But keep your eye on your North Star and seek to get back on that pathway as soon as possible. Having long-term goals can also facilitate a quicker rebound after challenging times, as they bring focus back to the firm. Don’t have a strategic plan? Get one.
I don’t know what your strategic goals are, but I do know that there are common pain points most firms are feeling these days. I also know that if we wait to deal with these weaknesses until the pandemic is at a complete end, at worst it may be too late and at best, we may never get back to our former strength. Find the time now to shore up those areas of the firm that could use it. Here are some ideas on where, and how.
- Don’t be afraid to look for opportunities. Sometimes the best business opportunities arise from periods of crisis. This might be a great time for your firm to expand…Over the holidays and into the New Year, my phone rang constantly with lawyers wanting to sell their practice. They are (mostly) senior lawyers who are tired, don’t want to put in the hours that are needed to keep up with client demands, and want to ensure their clients (and staff) are well looked after in the future. These are generally strong practices with great potential for growth. The pandemic has taught us how to work remotely so much of the work from these practices could easily be handled through a main office. Opportunities abound for profitable satellite offices that already have some talent, the infrastructure, the client base and potentially even a referral base to support it. This is so much easier than trying to start an office from scratch. Some find it a bit scary thinking about expanding during a pandemic. Well, it shouldn’t be. Law firms have tended to hold their own in the past year. The only hindrance to pursuing a logical and carefully considered growth strategy is an emotional one. Some firms are going to gobble up market share as a result of these marketplace shifts, while others will be too afraid to do more than survive.
- Use this time to re-examine your service offerings. Are you covering the right practice areas or do you need to make shifts: either drop groups, add groups, or move people around between groups? Changes to the PI world are forcing some of these decisions, but don’t limit your analysis and re-grouping to that practice area. Think about how you would define a successful practice, and then measure all practices against that yardstick. Once you find the gaps, decide how to deal with them. Bring in laterals to expand or start a practice? Require practice plans and budgets (revenue and expense) with regular reporting (accountability) sessions? Improve your marketing? Your practice areas ARE your business. Make sure they are running well.
- Also use this time to re-examine your lawyers. Do you have the right people? Do they reflect the culture and brand of the firm? Are they as productive as you need them to be? Have you identified and started to prepare future Partners? As with practice groups, do you have a standard to which each lawyer should be measured? When you identify any gaps, how will you deal with them? Education? Hiring? Firing? Coaching? Mentoring? Change in compensation structure?
- Assess your staff. Do you have the right people (personality and capabilities)? Do they have the right support (training, technology)? Do they feel appropriately appreciated? Are they appropriately compensated? Next, assess the use of your staff. It is getting more difficult to find good staff and Covid hasn’t exactly increased the number of graduates from legal assistant and paralegal programs. Firms should re-assess how they use staff and see where they can rely on them less. For example, make better use of technology.
When a patient breaks a limb and later, the cast comes off, they can often be afraid to use that limb fully. On one hand this hesitancy is normal as it’s likely the muscles will have weakened, and have to be built up again. But occasionally, a therapist will find that a patient has an emotional reluctance to use the limb fully because they no longer trust it so support them the way it once did. This, then, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Law firms should not remain in a holding pattern. The fact is, you were never that broken to begin with. In fact, law firms have done better than most businesses during Covid. And the pandemic’s continuation is no excuse for ignoring the need for strategy and action to ensure that once the cast is off, the firm is stronger than ever.
Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms, lawyers and administrators. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org