Law firm strategic planning may not be your top priority right now—especially with the current global pandemic and recession in mind. With pressing issues at hand, it can be challenging to step back and think about what the future will look like for your law firm. However, whether you’re a solo lawyer or have some partners at your small firm, law firm strategic planning is more critical than ever now. Strategic planning for law firms impacts their growth, which can mean surviving or going under during a recession.
In this blog post, we’ll go over why strategic planning is essential to any law firm, how to create a law firm strategic plan, and the steps you can take to help you successfully execute your plan.
Why strategic planning for law firms is essential
Are you starting out as a solo lawyer? Or has your firm been operating for a few years? Regardless of how old your law firm is, think of law firm strategic planning as a form of a recession contingency plan. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about the importance of having a wide-lens camera—so you see things through the right lens.
By spending the time to get a bird’s eye view on how your law firm has been doing, what the short term will bring for your firm, and what the future looks like, you’ll be better equipped to steer your law firm in the right direction—for the rest of the year and beyond. As Don Markland writes in his Forbes article on responding vs. reacting, the most successful businesses respond to crises according to a plan, instead of reacting.
How to create a law firm strategic plan
Strategic planning for law firms can sound daunting, especially if you’ve never created a plan before. From getting key stakeholders committed, to creating a strategic plan and analyzing your firm’s strengths and weaknesses, to implementing your strategic plan, there are many moving parts. Below, we’ll delve deeper into the steps you need to take to set yourself and your law firm up for success.
Commit to creating a strategic plan for your law firm
One of the first things you need to do is to get the leadership team in your law firm to commit to law firm strategic planning. In a solo law firm, this would be easier. But if you have some partners in your firm, you need to get everyone on board with creating a strategic plan. By making sure all the key stakeholders at your firm feel a sense of urgency and accountability towards creating a law firm strategic plan, you are more likely to arrive at a well-thought out plan within your desired timeframe.
Dedicate time for law firm strategic planning
This may mean blocking out everyone’s calendar for regular law firm strategic planning meetings, and being clear about what you want to accomplish during each meeting. If you are a solo attorney, blocking some time out in your own calendar can help you prioritize strategic planning.
Be sure to outline key project milestones and deadlines for these meetings. Some law firms may also benefit from off-site planning sessions, as going off-site helps give you and any co-workers you may have a different perspective. If you’re working in a virtual office, an off-site virtual meeting can mean changing your work environment as much as possible for these strategic planning meetings.
Make sure you have the right tools and resources
Before you start working on law firm strategic planning, you’ll want to research into what makes a great strategic plan—and the tools you’ll need to make that happen. In this Hubspot blog post, Meredith Hart highlights some useful strategic planning models and tools. We’ll discuss performing a SWOT analysis below, but other models and tools include:
- Porter’s Five Forces: This strategic planning tool is essential for evaluating your law firm’s competitive position in the industry.
- OKRs (objectives and key results): This goal-setting model does an amazing job at helping your law firm set big, hairy, audacious goals and finding ways to achieve them.
- Theory of Change: This model is great for setting goals and developing action plans. The idea is to work backward and envision what needs to be done to achieve a desired goal or action.
Perform a SWOT analysis
Business and management consultant Albert Humphrey developed the SWOT analysis framework, now often-used in universities and businesses globally.
As its name suggests, a SWOT analysis will help you identify your law firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This is essential to making informed business decisions. To start a SWOT analysis, create a chart with four squares. The top two squares will represent your law firm’s strengths and weaknesses, while the bottom two squares will represent your law firm’s opportunities and threats.
- Strengths and weaknesses: What is your law firm great at? Perhaps you have clients that love your client experience. Or maybe your law firm wins at productivity and is great at capturing as many billable hours in a day as possible. Then, identify your weaknesses—be honest when doing so.
- Opportunities and threats: Is there any external opportunity you aren’t already taking advantage of? For example, if you’re a real estate attorney and mortgage rates have recently dipped, you could be changing up your marketing efforts and reaching a new group of potential clients who previously would not consider getting a mortgage. Then, determine what external factors are threatening your law firm’s success. For example, the recession has resulted in some lawyers getting furloughed or enduring pay cuts. This may mean some law firms will be shor- staffed in the next few months.
- Overall law firm performance
- Current pricing structure and strategy
- Current legal technology stack
- How much your clients like working with you
- Your marketing and business development strategies
Determine your law firm’s goals
The next step is to consider your law firm’s financial and growth goals. According to Forbes, the most successful businesses “think through their goals at the beginning of the planning process, then circle back to the goals to ensure they are met when the planning is done.” But goal-setting is often easier said than done. How do you determine what your law firm’s goals should be?
To make your goals achievable, make sure they are SMART goals:
- Simple: Think about what you want to achieve, why is achieving those goals important, who will be involved in achieving them, and what resources you need to achieve them.
- Measurable: Your law firm’s strategic goals need to be measurable so they can be trackable. For example, you may say you want your law firm to grow. But how much growth do you want to achieve, and by when?
- Achievable: Review your law firm’s performance in the past months and years. Are there any noticeable patterns? By making sure your goals are achievable, you will be more motivated to prioritize them.
- Relevant: Consider the current economic situation. Are your goals relevant to that? Also, question if your goals align with your law firm’s overall vision and mission.
- Time-bound: In addition to being measurable, your goals need to have a timeline. When do you want to achieve your law firm’s goals? What are the milestones involved and when do you want to achieve them?
Build a system to measure results
What gets measured, gets managed. Having a system to measure results will ensure you will know how your law firm is doing, which can keep staff and lawyers accountable and inform future business decisions. What KPIs should you be measuring? How often will you monitor these reports?
Tools like Clio’s Law Firm Insights Dashboard can help you see how many billable hours your firm has captured, billed, and collected in one central dashboard. With this data, you can identify opportunities to improve productivity, efficiency, and revenue across your firm with Clio Manage’s Firm Dashboard. We also recommend looking into using legal analytics tools like Smarter Firms and EZlytix to track your law firm’s performance and make thoughtful decisions quickly.
Stay focused on key areas of your business
When you’re running a solo or small law firm, there are many moving parts to your business to consider. From managing your cases and legal documents, to billing and accounting (and the many things in between), it’s tempting to want to focus equally on everything while you’re working on your law firm’s strategic plan. After all, every aspect of your business is important.
But the best plans are simple and focused. Consider the areas of your business that need the most attention right now and in the near future. For example, you may have been wanting to improve your law firm’s collection rate forever, but have not dedicated enough time to planning how to do so. Or perhaps you have been wanting to build a more effective virtual law firm to meet shifting client expectations and improve the client experience. You can always come back and focus on other areas of your plan later if need be.
Test your ideas, then create an implementation plan
Before investing in a new idea, test its performance before officially launching it. As Mike Whelan, Jr. writes in his e-book, Designing Your Law Firm’s New Normal, “The risk of moving forward without filtering, clarifying, and testing can simply be too high.” Small firms simply cannot afford to let a bad idea sink them. The solution? You need to have a framework for testing your ideas before investing in them.
For a step-by-step guide on how to test your ideas, we recommend downloading this free e-book.
But a plan is only a plan until it gets implemented. Designing a detailed implementation process is essential to having an effective strategic law firm plan. Think about how you will divide responsibilities. Don’t forget to consider deadlines and budget for implementing your strategic plan. For a complex project like implementing a strategic plan, we recommend using a project management tool like Trello or Asana to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
Communicate changes to clients and staff
Remember to communicate changes to clients and staff early. Change is never easy, but by giving everyone ample notice on what to expect, the process can go a lot smoother. As Jack Newton writes in The Client-Centered Law Firm, “Even if you don’t have all the information right away, communicate that change is coming as soon as it’s approved and an implementation plan is being put into motion.” By communicating changes early, you can get valuable input from key staff members as well.
Continually update your law firm strategic plan
The most important tip for executing a law firm strategic plan? Make sure you schedule some time to review your strategic plan regularly. Once you’re done with law firm strategic planning, you should feel a great sense of achievement. That was a lot of work! But a good plan should be a living, breathing document. With the rapidly shifting client expectations and economical climate, it is wise to leave room for changes and improvements to your plan.
Consider hiring law firm strategic planning consultants
Law firm strategic planning is a huge commitment. But it is essential to making informed business decisions leading to law firm growth. As a solo attorney or small firm lawyer, you may not have the time to dedicate yourself to creating a well-thought-out plan. Or maybe you feel more comfortable with getting some expert guidance with strategic planning. You can find a Clio Certified Consultant to help you navigate the wonderful world of strategic planning.
To sum up law firm strategic planning
We’ve established why law firm strategic planning is essential to any law firm. Not only does it help you make better, more informed business decisions, it can also help you grow your business when it needs it most. To create a good strategic plan:
- Start with getting key stakeholders committed to the ongoing project.
- Dedicate time for strategic planning, you can help key stakeholders prioritize strategic planning.
- Gather the tools and resources you need, then
- Perform a SWOT analysis based on your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
- Think about key areas in your business, like your pricing structure, profitability, and marketing and business development efforts.
- Define your law firm’s goals.
- Make sure they are simple, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals.
- Stay focused on key areas of your business, even when there are so many areas to consider.
- Build a system to measure results is critical to the success of your strategic plan—and your law firm.
- Review your plan regularly to make sure it stays relevant.
We hope this blog post has given you a good idea of how to create a law firm strategic plan that is goal-oriented and flexible, yet pushes you to achieve your goals.