Now is the time of year when Christmas decorations are out on display and lawyers are forecasting the remainder of their year – deals closing, contingency cases settling – how will their year end and what should they be thinking about for 2020?
In today’s highly competitive legal market – with legal spend remaining flat, an increase in cost-pressure, and a rise in alternative legal service providers – attorneys need to be hyper-focused on one thing: securing their place in the market.
Since the great recession, a market position or competitive edge has meant many firms merging into mega-firms in hopes of being a one-stop shop for fickle corporate legal departments. Mid-size firms have pursued niche practice strategies — in hopes of finally meeting that client demand to know as much about their business as we do about the law. Small firms tout the same talent as biglaw — for half the cost. And each of these strategies works, for some time and to some degree. (But all have their limits, as a lawyer in big law, a mid-size firm, or a small practice can tell you.)
So what do we mean?
We’ve heard stories of law firms that outperformed others due to their deep alignment, and how that alignment manifests itself across business development, management, compensation, etc. For 99% of us, a beautiful dream but in practice: one tall order.
In this article, we discuss three powerful purposes for developing a strategic plan. In this process, lawyers who share a practice, livelihood, and client base deeply examine what is happening in their client’s businesses and marketplaces. They analyze where the market is going and what is likely to happen in the coming months and years. And then they agree to align themselves in pursuit of a plan that will allow them, in concert, to meet their clients where they are and lead them into the future.
Whether you’re trying to gain traction for developing a strategic plan or need ammunition for revisiting an old plan, here are three critical advantages a strategic plan gives a practice or industry group.
No firm is unique in the challenge of managing multiple competing interests and priorities, ultimately creating a strain on firm dollars and resources. These uncoordinated efforts drain resources, deliver mixed messaging to the target audience, or worse yet, the final products don’t even make it in front of the correct target audience. By aligning your group, team members will understand where and how to focus attention and resources and avoid random acts of ad hoc marketing.
Equally as important as the final product, the process through which the plan is developed is an invaluable opportunity to develop trust among the participants. To achieve a unified vision and agree upon a direction for the group, the process entails negotiating and compromising, fostering open communication between the participations. In turn, the participants feel that their voices have been heard and subconsciously have built emotional equity.
When you think about consistency in a business you may automatically think of customer service or brand (like a logo or an ad). However, consistency in your group’s business encompasses far more: it is your entire message. This message allows your target audience to truly understand who you are, what you do, and who you serve.
Through the planning process, you clearly define who the target audience consists of, what is important to them, and form messages that will truly resonate. When the group understands what they are working to achieve together, they will feel invested in the message and, in turn, the delivery of information about the group and its capabilities will be consistent to clients and prospects.
A flexible business model is important to survive in today’s business climate. Through the process of proactively assessing what changes could arise in the market and how your group could be prepared to adjust to what would otherwise be considered unexpected changes provides a sense of stability for the members of the group. This proactive approach mitigates panic, anxiety, and jumping ship in times of uncertainty. (Which can be especially important for small firms who risk losing laterals to bigger firms or more well-established brands.)
Proactive planning also provides an indirect sense of stability to your clients. By carefully creating a plan around key clients the group develops built-in succession planning and positions the team with multiple points of contact for the client. Succession planning also provides junior attorneys with the security of a clear path at the firm.