Many of us have experienced the 20+ page five-year strategic
plans that take countless attorney hours to agree upon and write,
but then end up on the shelf gathering dust. However, we also hear
time and time again that developing, articulating, and writing down
goals is good business management. So, why doesn't it work when we
spend so much time doing it?
One reason could be that it's too detailed or too broad. A strat
plan that is too detailed may state "Obtain 20 new clients in
Philadelphia with matters likely to bring in over $x in the health
care law practice by the end of Q1." Whereas a strat plan that is
too broad may simply say "Grow the client base in the firm by 10
percent." Strat plans must be focused and included clearly defined
goals, but shouldn't be so specific that it becomes unachievable
and therefore overwhelming.
Another possible reason why the strat plan may not have worked
was that you may have failed to get proper buy-in before the plan
was finalized. Did you receive input from the practice group
leaders? Did you talk to individual partners to learn about their
specific practice plans and marketing goals? And, perhaps most
importantly, did you talk to your clients? What is on
their horizon? What are their stressors and impediments? What
problems do they foresee in the near future that could impact their
Often people can also be confused about the differences between
a strategy vs. a goal or a strategy vs. an action plan, and don't
know where to start which could be another reason why your
strategic plan did not work.
Who has the time? The most obvious reason (and excuse!) for not
developing a strat plan is simply time. I would answer the question
"Who has the time?" with another question: Who can afford not to
have a strat plan?
The best strategic plans take the following into consideration:
internal and external factors.
A commonly used exercise is the SWOT analysis that involves
considering what the internal factors are (strengths and
weaknesses) as well as the external factors (opportunities and
threats) that impact the firm. You would be surprised what you will
gain from doing a simple SWOT analysis.
Another tool used to evaluate these factors is the PEST (or
STEP) analysis: What are the Political/Legal, Economic,
Social/Cultural, and Technology Trends that will impact the firm?
Laying these things out in a simple grid with practice groups down
the side and PEST across the top often can point to where to start
with the strat plan.
When determining your competitive advantage, it is critical to
ask "What does our firm have that other firms don't have?" One
framework used to define this is VRIO: Valuable (value to the
client), Rare (not easily found or accessed), Inimitable
(competitors cannot do it or copy it), Organizational Capability
(the forms ability to capitalize on the advantage). I know what
some of you are thinking - "Not all practice areas are rare" - but,
talent, experience, nimbleness, flexibility with rate structure,
are. For example, how are you using technology to give you a
competitive advantage? If you are not thinking about this, you
should be and it should be in your strat plan.
Keeping it simple
Strat plans typically have Goals (what do we want to
achieve), Strategies (how will we achieve the goals), and
Action Plans) (detailed approach to the strategy). It's
important to have built-in accountability with individual names
attached to action items and time periods defined for check-in. It
also helps to define what success looks like at the outset. If the
goal is to grow the real estate practice, then success could look
like 10 percent more matters in a 24-month period. Defining success
at the outset will let you determine whether or not you've achieved
it. If you don't define it, how will you know when you get
How to measure success
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) include: monthly billables;
monthly revenue; timekeeper utilization; number of new clients in a
given period; number of new matters in a given period; realization
of billed/billable; realization of received/billed; etc. If you can
measure it, and it is elevant to the strategy you have
defined, then it is a KPI.
Question: What comes first? Strategy or culture? Structure or
Answer: Culture supports Strategy, and Strategy informs
Structure which informs Process.
If you define a strategy that is not consistent with the culture
of your firm, you will not succeed. For example, if one of your
strategies is to encourage more business development by individual
attorneys and you are going to give each attorney (including
associates) an annual budget but your culture is such that
associates are not empowered to do business development on their
own, you will not succeed.
Once the strategic plan is done, it must inform your structure
and your process. Do you have the right people, process, and
technology to achieve the desired outcomes?
Bottom line: Strategic plans don't have to be scary,
and they don't have to be dust-catchers. They can be aspirational
yet realistic, simple and achievable, informative and