It is essential for small law firms to create a strategic plan with clearly specified goals and carefully aligned resources needed to achieve them
In previous installments in this series, we discussed why setting a strategic plan for your small law firm is a vital part of running a successful and profitable practice. We also looked at how to begin the process of effective strategic planning by establishing a series of goals you and your business need to accomplish to best find the results you want for the future.
A strategic plan requires that you clearly specify your goals and carefully align the resources needed to achieve them. In fact, it can and should be a series of goals based on a progression of priorities: What do I need to do now, for the rest of the year, and beyond, to build a more successful practice?
Setting realistic, honest, and attainable goals is a vital first step. But it’s only the first step.
Setting goals is meaningless without the necessary resources dedicated to achieving those goals. Strategic planning requires alignment of resources with an eye toward achieving the aspirations our goals set out for us. It’s this alignment of resources that moves us from the aspirational to the accomplishable. This necessarily means expenditures of both time and money. If you aren’t willing to dedicate your capital — both financial and human capital — in support of your identified goals, then what can you realistically expect to accomplish?
The first key question to ask with regard to resource allocation is, “What’s it going to take in terms of time — both mine and my staff’s?”
Allocating the Time & Money
For many lawyers, allocating time toward strategic objectives can be a difficult commitment to make. Most lawyers recognize the immediate needs associated with running their practices: What is it going to take to keep the lights on and my expenses paid? And many lawyers stop there, essentially allowing the tactical to interfere with the strategic. Or, to put it another way, day-to-day concerns overshadow steps that are necessary to plan for the future.
But as you formulate a strategic plan, think of it this way: Do something for today, and do something today for tomorrow.
It is simply not possible, however, to prepare for the future without investing time to set goals for your practice’s future and to work toward achieving them.
That’s not to say all of the energy has to come from the lawyer. Leaders of small law firms with staffs should consider whose time is best suited to accomplishing a certain task. In some cases, it might be the lawyer because of the level of expertise required, the network that needs to be built, or the level of decision-making authority that is required. But other tasks can and should be completed at a more appropriate work level. For example, you could ask a staff member to prepare periodic legal market updates on the megatrends that may be influence your practice longer-term. This type of intel is vital, but it does not necessarily need to be part of the rainmaking attorney’s workload if there are other options.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for making decisions about what tasks are most appropriately done at what level — the answer will vary based on the focus area and the make-up of a particular firm. But having the right people doing the work is vital to making meaningful progress.
It’s also important to remember that effectively implementing a strategic plan will require a financial commitment. In previous posts in this series, we’ve discussed examining your firm’s marketing or your personal network as areas that may be ripe for development as part of a business plan. These types of improvements will require some investment. That might mean investment in association memberships, travel expenses, enhanced technology, or outside expertise, in addition to the investment of your energy and time.
As part of your assessment of resources, you must identify what resources you need to acquire to accomplish your stated goal, then dedicate the financial means to accomplish that goal. Here again, be careful to not let the tactical interfere with the strategic. Just as paying your staff and lease are part of your monthly calculus, you should also include the expenses to see your plan through as part of your regular budgeting process.
The Ingredients for Success
Finally, as you set your goals and allocate resources, you must also consider the dependencies in your plan. By that I mean: What needs to happen in order for this plan to be successful?
This can take a couple of forms. First, in what order do things need to happen? Second, what must I accomplish first in order to accomplish the broader goals? And ultimately, what are the three to five larger items I need to accomplish to succeed at my stated goal?
Combining all of the elements we’ve discussed to this point — the goals you want to achieve, the resources you need to accomplish those goals, and the dependencies that need to align — is the essence of an effective strategic plan. You need to be realistic with yourself about what you’re trying to achieve, but don’t be afraid to be aspirational.
In future installments in this series, we will examine this strategic planning framework in the context of some essential core competencies that small law firm leaders should consider, such as resource and staff management, client relationship management, and business development.