Strategic planning is hard. It is so much easier to run your practice as you always have, or to talk about improving your client selection skills or to hope that a budget appears on your desk. The reality is that no one can manage your practice but you and it is worth your time to think strategically about how to improve your law practice. However, if you rethink strategic planning, perhaps you can do some before the end of the year.
Most of us think about starting a strategy session outside of the office, preferably in a resort location with a high-priced consultant or at least a cheap facilitator to tell us what to do with our practice. While that sounds fun, it isn’t going to happen between now and December 31. So how about if you walk down the hall to your conference room to escape the phone and email and devote a few hours to thinking about the future of your law practice?
One of the exercises a consultant would suggest is a SWOT analysis. Why not give it a try on your own? Pull out a yellow pad, or a laptop or an iPad. Start by listing your strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps resolving client problems is your strength and getting new clients in the door is your weakness. This is actually a good problem to have. Client referrals are a great source of revenue for many lawyers, and if you are successful at resolving their problems, they are probably willing to refer work to you. You just need to make sure that you ask them to do this. It may seem difficult at first, but the more you practice the easier it will get. Continue identifying strengths and weaknesses until you feel you have identified enough items to set goals around.
The next two pieces of the SWOT analysis are to identify opportunities and threats. What is getting in the way of having a successful practice or taking your practice to the next level? Write the threats down and think through solutions. It sometimes feels easier to come up with a list of threats (or challenges) than to identify new opportunities. Don’t get discouraged. Brainstorm about your favorite work and how to get more of it, what your ideal client looks like and where to find them. Also begin to think about whether you can offer clients a new service, a new fee structure, or identify a new way to appeal to clients.
As you begin listing opportunities, this is the time to think of who your referral sources are or should be. Make a list. Who’s on the list? Other attorneys, your banker, your CPA, professionals you interact with on cases, your clients, your friends, people you do business with. Get the idea?
Another group to identify are the people who can help you take your practice to the next level. If adding lawyers to your practice is a plan for the future, you should spend time developing relationships with the Career Service Office at your law school, as well as other law schools. The professionals who work in the law school Career Service Office can talk with you about hiring trends, salary, candidates or alums who fit the skill sets you are looking for. Spend time getting to know the legal recruiters in your area for these same reasons. They are one more tool in your recruiting toolkit.
Also, identify your friends and colleagues who work in other professions. Ask them to share with you their challenges and solutions as you share with them your best practices. Identify lawyers who are outside of your geographic reach who might serve as good referral sources or who would be willing to share ideas about how they run their practice.
Look at your calendar and start setting up breakfast, lunch, coffee or telephone calls to talk to these people and formalize the referral relationship. Perhaps you do this by asking them what their target client looks like so you can offer referrals to them. Don’t look at your referral list as a one-way meal ticket. The best way to get something is to give something. Share information. If you’ve used a great vendor, pass along that information. If you’ve found a wonderful web resource or great article, send it along.
After going through the SWOT analysis, begin to identify some strategic objectives and set some tactical goals that will allow you to meet those objectives. For the purpose of the exercise, feel free to have 3 -5 strategic objectives and dozens of goals.
Now you have arrived at the most important part of the exercise. Look at the strategies and decide how to prioritize for the coming year. At this point, you have to have a real conversation with yourself about what you can accomplish. You should keep the number of strategic objectives between one and three, with about three to five tactical goals for each objective. Don’t get rid of the remainder, as you succeed in meeting your goals, these leftover goals are added to your strategic plan for next year.
Now that the goals are identified, you have to fit them into your budget and establish time frames when the goals should be reached. You can’t reach out to 50 referral sources in January. Decide on a realistic plan, put it on your calendar and be accountable to yourself.
I’m not suggesting that strategic planning is painless. However, the end of the year is a great time to strategize about ways to improve your law practice.
Camille Stell is the Vice President of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual and often facilitates law firm strategic sessions. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.662.8843.