Solo and small law firms face many challenges. Due to their nature, many are too busy to comprehend the fact that Strategic Planning could land more and better business over the long term. If your goal is doing better business, small and solo law firms need a Strategic Plan.
How can you expect to get to better business if you don’t know how you will do it? You can’t just dream it. Meticulous planning and following a specific roadmap to success is what you need. This is different from just saying it. Most small-firm leaders will say they want to be more successful by working harder and smarter. The real question is how will you? By answering this, you have begun engaging in proper Strategic Planning.
Unfortunately, it is not surprising that small law firms lack Strategic Plans. The reality is that larger firms have always had the advantage. With staff to manage the firm, lawyers can concentrate on clients, enabling for further business development without having to juggle doing everything for the firm. For small firms however, Strategic Planning takes a back seat, which is not good for business.
What is Strategic Planning?
Cynicism can take over when you hear the term “Strategic Planning.” Attorneys automatically envision wasted time and money spent with a consultant who won’t stop talking about business jargon, before stating the obvious that you already knew. Forget this. The reality is that Strategic Planning isn’t that complicated. What it boils down to is a process that makes a law firm stop and think. Where has the practice been? Where is it today? What are the goals for the future? Most importantly, how can you make these goals happen. Yes, it is that simple. Strategic Planning is just a process in how to define goals and then create realistic plans to achieve them.
By undertaking Strategic Planning, you force lawyers, who are often too busy being lawyers, to anticipate the future, not the present. When Strategically Planning for a small law firm it is typical for a plan to cover one to three years.
What to Consider in a Strategic Plan?
To have a successful plan, the firm must concentrate on a few key areas. These include:
- Considering the firm’s culture and vision
- Analysing emerging trends that might provide opportunities
- Investigating emerging threats that might dictate a shift in how the business works
- Any operational changes that might be needed
This can all be very simple to do. You shouldn’t try to have a perfect roadmap. Don’t set too lofty goals. This will discourage team morale and their willingness to improve the business if they cannot be met. Try setting smaller, simple goals to begin with. This will help motivate the team.
Why is Strategic Planning Resisted?
Ignoring strategic planning is very common. Some of these include:
- Leadership issues: Anytime in life you face challenging situations, you need good leadership. This is no different at law firms. You need people to step up to take on difficulties, however, if this is not there than the firm will struggle to manage significant changes.
- No hindsight: Strategic Planning does require non-billable hours, which are not usually rewarded by most law firms. There is often resistance to spending time on tasks that do not bring a reward, although Strategic Planning will reap benefits in the future.
- Execution issues: Creating a Strategic Plan is one thing, but implementing it is a whole other challenge. Making a plan happen takes time and resources, so many firms can fall into the trap of ignoring a Strategic Plan and focusing solely on clients.
- No majority: Democratic institutions struggle to take action on tasks if there is no consensus. The fear of Strategic Planning uncovering difficult business issues could encourage some to ignore the process entirely. Some may even be hoping that a problem goes away without having to confront it.
- Lack of accountability: If there is no accountability within a plan it is easy for those involved to face no consequences if the method is not correctly implemented. Making people accountable is a must for a Strategic Plan to work.
Strategic Planning Step By Step
Below is a simple guide on how to plan. The first step is easy: assess the status of the firm and gather facts. This can be quickly done identifying its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It is common for most firms to know already what some of these are, but it is rare to gather these all up and look at them together. When doing this type of analysis, it is essential to focus on being thorough but not getting carried away with including too many elements. Here are some questions that you could consider to ask during this planning stage:
- Who is in our marketplace?
- Who are the main competitors?
- What do they do worse than us?
- What do they do better than us?
- How is our current reputation in the marketplace?
- What can be done to improve our reputation?
- How can we make our firm different from those similar?
These questions would be helpful to ask regarding internal issues:
- What is our firms core values?
- How would you describe the culture?
- What can be done to better our leadership?
- Do we need to upgrade our marketing
- How is the quality of our work?
- Are our employees suitable?
- Are they compensated fairly?
Externally, will there be any impacts to the practice in the coming years due to factors such as the political climate, legislation, regulation or the economy? With clients and the services you offer, get feedback from them and then look at these areas:
- Which business areas are most profitable?
- Who are the top clients?
- What work do we do for them?
- Will their needs change over time?
- Should we alter regions to meet clients’ needs better?
Answering these questions will divulge a lot of useful information. It is possible there will be too much information. To keep the Strategic Planning process simple, you must concentrate on a handful of issues. If you can’t see which of these are apparent, the answer to the question “what worries you most about the firm’s future?” will point you in the right direction. Strategic Planning is so great because it will force you to consider the future, but also will help solve problems that have already been occurring.
Create a Plan
Now that you have gathered the information it is time to create a plan to action. This plan doesn’t need to be complicated in any way, shape or form. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Think of the realistic goals that you think will help your firm.
- Which of these can be achieved?
- What is your plan to achieve them?
- What is the deadline for them?
- How will accountability be taken?
The needs to be executed. The best Strategic Plan will be completely wasted if it is never implemented. To avoid this happening, hold progress meetings so that the plan is regularly monitored. This is very crucial to making sure that the project occurs. People must be held accountable for implementing change, yourself included. Lead from the front and do not be afraid to make revisions. A Strategic Plan is meant to be flexible. Monitoring is best done by having regular meetings – usually every month. They don’t have to be long, give everyone involved time to speak so they can provide an update.
Including Others in the Plan
There are always pros and cons to including others in Strategic Plans. If you choose to include associates and staff, they will be able to provide a different perspective on specific issues, which could help give an accurate picture of the firm as a whole. It will also help to send a message that all levels can participate and their opinions matter.
Alternatively, if you include those who don’t have an ownership stake in the firm, they will be less immediately affected financially by changes that occur through the Strategic Plan. You might also find that some things in the plan that needs to be kept confidential between partners only.
Small firms cannot get better quality and more business consistently by just thinking about it. If you have a plan, follow it. Strategic Planning does work!