FOUR FACTORS THAT BRING OUT THE ENERGIES AND TALENTS OF ATTORNEYSby Joel A. Rose
The difference between success and failure in a law firm can very often be traced to how well four main factors of firm life bring out the energies and talents of its attorneys, namely: leadership, including policy determination and implementation; firm culture; attorney compensation system; and client base.
In recent years, law firms have greatly benefited from thoughtful strategic planning retreats and research. While the success of many firms stems from the energy, skill and reputation of founding and second generation partners, at some point the firm must identify which transcends these partners and attracts clients because of its special capabilities.
Firms which position themselves through strategic planning are simply operating like any well-run business in an intensely competitive market.
The strategic planning process, if well-conceived and implemented, will foster communication, create a sense of ownership and common direction to bind the firm, help it withstand adversity, and achieve longevity and success; and build emotional equity, in addition to financial equity.
The strategic planning process allows firms to re-focus on team work and investment in the long-run, even though this investment may reduce short-run profits. Firms must recognize that they cannot build a long-term continuous stream of business in one year and that they are not static. Internal and external forces change law firms, i.e., key clients and influential partners may come and go, economic trends and public policies may change. The glue that holds partners together includes their agreement about those collective values and beliefs about client service, an understanding and commitment about the firm’s mission, direction and goals and partner compensation levels that are competitive with those of peer firms.
Formulating the Plan
First, the managing partner, or management committee and other partners must be committed to strategic planning and its implementation. Without this commitment, the strategic planning process will be unsuccessful. Lawyer management should:
There are certain issues to be addressed during the strategic planning retreat or study, such as:
Many law firms have found that experienced law office consultants can expedite the strategic planning process. Being familiar with firm dynamics and the economics of law firms, they can analyze and interpret financial and management information and partners’ responses. They can recommend alternative approaches for achieving firm objectives. Further, partners are usually willing to discuss their perceptions about the firm and respond to questions more readily with consultants than with other partners.
Drafting the Plan
The next phase includes drafting objectives for presentation to the partners in each of the areas studied. The following is an abbreviated presentation of objectives and strategies prepared for one mid-size law firm: We will be the dominant and preeminent, full-service law firm of first choice in the region, with a statewide reputation for competence and professionalism of the highest order.
A sample of some strategic goals are:
Goal One: Create, implement and promote a streamline governance system which enjoys the confidence of everyone and allows us to anticipate and benefit from changes in the environment through prompt, skilled and coordinated decision making and action.
Goal Two: Systematically recruit, retain and train high caliber attorneys, who will be successors and leaders for our firm.
Implementing the Plan
The final benefit of strategic planning is when the plan is implemented. This is commonly the most difficult part of the strategic planning process. It is recommended that the plan be implemented through the firm’s existing organizational structure, i.e., the managing partner, the strategic planning committee, heads of substantive practice areas and branch offices, etc.
Individual partners should be assigned responsibility and be held accountable for the development and satisfactory implementation of each phase of the plan in accordance with an agreed-upon timetable. Partners responsible for the implementation phase should report to the managing partner, strategic planning committee or other group designated to oversee the planning process. Problems or progress should be reviewed and assessments made to determine the most appropriate strategies to be followed. Status reports should be provided to the other partners on progress or problems in each phase of the plan in order to keep them apprised.
Strategic planning is a dynamic process. If conceived properly and implemented effectively, it will provide information required for determining and achieving immediate and long-term goals.
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