Do we really have to do Strategic Planning?

The answer is no, you don’t have to – but you should. All law firms of all sizes need a strategic plan. If you don’t have a plan and goals, how can you expect to succeed, especially with all of the competition out there? Do/did you have a personal life plan, education plan or financial plan? Ask yourself why you made the choices you made. Were they planned for the optimum personal success and did you reach your personal goals? How will you know you are successful if you don’t plan or set goals? Same goes for your law firm. Strategic planning is not just a “touchy-feely” exercise. It’s important and necessary. And it doesn’t have to be painful or difficult.

A strategic plan starts with doing a SWOT or TOWS analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. TOWS is a variant of the SWOT analysis the focuses first and foremost on the external environment. Law firms tend to get stuck on analysing their internal situation (often referred to as “navel gazing”) and fail to spend enough time looking at the actual market for their services, their competitors’ strengths, weaknesses and strategic competitive advantages and marketing tactics. Whichever way you do this exercise, you gain extremely valuable insights about your own firm and your market and competition. These help to inform your decisions on goal-setting.

Strategic planning for law firms also includes some financial analysis and getting the input of each of the partners, as different partners may want different things. It is also important to consider the input of upcoming associates, managers, staff and especially, clients (past, current and even potential). This can be accomplished through face-to-face interviews or surveys (targeted client surveys, anonymous client or employee surveys, etc.). You can use great tools such as Survey Monkey to send your surveys out by email and the data comes back tabulated for you.

Coming from the results of your data gathering, you will need to come up with some specific strategic goals that the partners come to agreement upon. These goals need to be distinguished from specific tactics and actions. The goals are your overarching hopes of where you want to be in the future. Then, you must plan which tactic and actions must be employed to reach those goals within your given time period.

Many law firms, especially the larger law firms, will hire specialized law firm consultants to do this work and facilitate their discussions. There are many excellent consultants and consulting firms in Canada and the US that you can hire, however, it does come at significant cost. You will need to pay the consultant for several days of work (interviewing, creating surveys, facilitating partners’ planning sessions and creating the strategic plan and implementation plan). If you can afford this, it can be money well spent but only if you follow through on the implementation plan and check back on progress frequently. The external consultant comes with knowledge and experience of all the other law firms he or she has worked with; however, lacks the direct intimate knowledge and personal caring for your own firm.

If you are a smaller firm and don’t want to spend that much money, you can use your “internal consultant”, i.e. your Administrator or COO. However, this individual must be familiar with and educated/experienced in the strategic planning process as well as the implementation and follow-through process. This person needs to be able to maintain a neutral and objective stance as consultant and facilitator as well as strict confidentiality, especially to do with the interviews/surveys of the individual partners, clients and employees. This is a position of trust and confidence. If your Administrator or COO conducts the strategic planning process, they should not be an active participant in it. This is not usually a problem, as ultimately, the strategic plan for the future of the firm lies in the partners’ hands. The Administrator/COO can gather the necessary data for financial and other analyses and also be the person to administer the implementation of the planning, ensuring that partners have the required follow-up meetings and that they each attend to their assigned tasks. The strategic planning process can be scaled to best suit the size of the firm.

A strategic plan should span three to five years, with regular checks and meetings on progress. Remember that this is only a plan and oftentimes, plans must change. So, at some point in that time span, you may have an “adjustment” session to incorporate unexpected circumstances or changes in the market. It is OK to veer from your initial strategic plan as long as it is a strategically planned change in direction.

So, should you do it – yes! Can you do it – of course, even if you are a smaller firm. The benefits are great, it is incredibly enlightening and it can be a lot of fun. I encourage all law firms to find a way to have a solid and successful strategic plan.