PLANNING FOR LAW FIRM SUCCESS AND GROWTH IN 2021
There is a popular adage often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the father of time management, that says, “failing to plan is planning to fail”.
Law firm strategic planning is taking a step back and looking where you have been, where you want to go and how you are going get there. And doing nothing about planning to move forward means that your firm is stagnating – and losing ground.
The practice of law is complicated. We have learned in these past many months that nothing stays the same. We have seen some law firms get blind-sighted by the pandemic, and other firms pick themselves up, dust themselves off and keep moving forward. The livelihood and success of your firm depends on you picking your head up, seeing what is going on in the marketplace and making changes accordingly.
Strategic planning becomes critical where growth or skills sets aren’t as in demand as they used to be. Strategic planning for law firms does not change. The fundamentals change as does what is going on, and firms need to develop strategies to keep up with pressure on the economics and resistance from clients on fee increases.
Basically, it boils down to this: keep up or get left behind.
Have a Plan
Sounds simple enough and yet we cannot seem to tear ourselves away from “the practice of law” long enough to take a step back and ask “what are my goals” and “where do I want to be in 12, 24 or 36 months”? Sounds crazy right? And yet, that is what happens. Our days are filled with so many things – with billing being at the very tail end of important things that we don’t have time for.
In solo and small firms we react to the moment – whatever needs our attention at “that moment”. The problem with this is that we end up letting each day dictate how we are going to manage our law firm, and guess what, we don’t manage it. It manages itself and time gets away from us.
Solo/Small Firm Challenges
Of course, firm size matters! The big firms assign strategic planning to a committee made up of partners and associates and a few lay people to decide what will be happening with the firm. Large law firms pay a lot of money to come up with a strategy – and then it’s up to the firm to implement it.
Solo and smaller firms need to be more resourceful – about their time and their money. There are fewer people involved and so decisions to move forward with a plan can happen more quickly.
So, what do the smaller firms do?
They hire a Law Practice Management Consultant. Someone who is experienced with law firms and who is not on the frontline fighting fires, meeting deadlines and getting things filed in court.
Law Practice Management Consultant
As a Law Practice Management Consultant I am disconnected from the legal practice, I do not hear the phone ringing, and I am not concerned with emails or what is happening in court tomorrow. I can talk to whatever staff there is associated with the practice – bookkeeper, marketing person, associates – to figure out how the firm will get where they want to go, how they will get there and most importantly get them started.
The challenge faced by solo and small firms is that it is difficult to figure out where you want to go and how to get there when you have a solo or small firm.
Actually, I think the correct word would be “overwhelming”.
I specialize in working with solo/smaller firms. For one firm, it came as a surprise to learn that a partner had only taken $60,000 in a salary, or that an associate was billing 20 hours a month. Let me say that again . . . 20 hours a month! Needless so say that firm was shocked to learn that they were realizing less than $50,000 in revenues - and not $300,00.00 from that associate. Even more surprising, they were paying the attorney $65,000 per year plus benefits!!
These are, unfortunately, the things that get away from you as a solo or smaller firm practitioner. While the attorney is practicing law, no one is managing the business of practicing law.
As a Law Practice Management Consultant with over 30 years’ experience, there is not much that you can tell me that would surprise me, shock me, or overwhelm me.
Implementing and Measuring Strategic Results
A strategic plan that is never implemented is . . . a list of suggestions!
That is all. The way to have a strategic plan lead to real progress is to implement it. It is important to keep things manageable. Keep strategic plans brief and to the point, as you will have a better chance of implementing them.
Define Goals Clearly and Make Them Accountable
You need to take a moment and figure out what your goals are. Do you want to add/change an area of law that you are practicing? Do you want to go to flat fees? Is it time to add an associate, marketing person, receptionist? Do you want virtual assistance? Do you want to reduce your staff? Decrease your physical office but increase efficiency? Do billing on a monthly basis?
A strategic plan does not just need to be a goal of where you want the law firm to be in 12, 24 or 36 months – you need to assign responsibility for achieving goals to the appropriate person within the firm, including any outsourced help. Implementation needs to be reduced down to metrics to see how much progress your firm is making.
Without a metric to measure progress – what’s the point?
For example, if you want to start taking personal injury cases, there needs to be a metric to measure your success. If you are 3 months into your strategic plan and have not taken any personal injury cases, your plan is failing. It is either time to abandon this plan or restructure it.
Every aspect of your strategic plan needs assignment of what the plan is, how you are going to get there, who in your firm will (help) get you there, when the task will start and then being held accountable. In other words, did it happen and if not, why not?
MAKE IT HAPPEN
As a solo/small firm, you can make a strategic plan happen in a month. This is not a process that will take 6 – 9 months. You do the pre-work and the financial review and analysis before you sit down to work out the plan. There are not a lot of people to review, run-by or get approval for a plan to be instituted.
As I said earlier, your strategic plan is a well-thought-out road map of how you are going to get your law firm to its destination in 12, 24 or 36. It can project gross revenues, income before taxes, number of employees, marketing strategy, billing procedures, articles published, newsletters contributed to, new contacts and referral sources or anything else that is a goal for your firm.
This is a guide for your firm to keep on course and achieve its goals. The great thing is that now you have something that you can look at, make sure you are measuring up to your potential and achieving your goals. As a solo or small firm practitioner, I know it is difficult to be focused on anything but the actual practice of law – including billing!!
Remember, “a goal without a plan is just a wish” (author unknown). Be successful in 2021 - call me!!
Call me - Liz Miller at 813-340-9569 if you want to plan for the success of your law firm. Consultations are FREE.
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