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Steps to Successful Strategic Planning

At the LMA Southeastern Chapter conference in Nashville, Tennessee panelists shared best practices for strategic planning in law firms. While everyone agrees it’s critical for law firms to have a strategic plan, one panelist—the managing partner of a mid-size law firm—advises not to bother “creating one more nice notebook to put on the shelf” unless the firm can say yes to the four Cs:

  • Is there a genuine willingness to CHANGE the way we do things, processes, behaviors, etc.?
  • Is there a COMMITMENT to the process? Are key stakeholders willing to forgo immediate billable work to focus on the process? To do it right takes time and a lot more than two people at the top driving the process.
  • Does the firm have the COURAGE to say no?  You may have to say no to things you are currently doing, including work that is ready to come in the door.
  • Is there a COLLABORATIVE spirit?

Separately, when asked if and how to engage clients and referral sources in the planning process, panelists admit that law firms rarely do it well. One consultant says, “It’s so important to have your finger on the pulse of change with your clients. At the end of the day if you want to stay the same, stay the same. The reality is that outside of your organization is going to change regardless.”

Law firms that engage with clients on a regular basis to understand market, industry and business pressures and priorities have a greater chance of successful strategic plan development and implementation, according to a survey of law firm managing partners conducted by Altman Weil. Unfortunately, most firms spend far more time, effort and energy focusing internally rather than externally. 

Before you embark on strategy development, make sure the most important voice—the voice of the client—is central to the process. Understand how they perceive your firm, what differentiates your firm from the competition, what your clients value most, what is happening in their marketplaces and businesses and what changes they anticipate. How? Engage in conversation. Ask and they will tell you.

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