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Strategic Planning for Law Firms - The Key Steps to Getting It Right


     By International Law Firm Solutions Ltd International Law Firm Marketing

PhoneCall Alex Holtum at +44 7769 640959


Helping law firm partners and management take a step back to look at the bigger picture, consider the competitive dynamics, develop their strategy and grow their businesses internationally.
ILFS regularly act as a trusted advisor in the formation and implementation of strategic and organisational initiatives facing our law firm clients.

Despite this and regularly preaching to our clients the importance of carrying out a Strategic Review of their business, we – like many of our clients - found that we had been too busy doing the day-to-day job to carry out a root and branch review of our own business.

Last year, we therefore decided to conduct our own (rather overdue) Strategic Review.

SELF APPRAISAL - AN UNCOMFORTABLE EXPERIENCE

A strategic review starts with an evaluation of your own business. This is not an easy task. It can be very hard knowing what to cover in that evaluation (what should we include, leave out, how deep should it go?) and to do it impartially. No one like critiquing themselves, especially if they know it may uncover issues outside their comfort zone that they would rather not deal with. Of course, as well as looking at the internal strengths and weaknesses of your firm, you also need to consider the external threats and opportunities and how you are going to mitigate or exploit those.

And once you have completed a review, the next step is how do you turn your findings into a plan to drive ‘change’ forward within your firm that allows for real growth? If a strategic plan is just consigned to a document that is never read or implemented it will never deliver meaningful change.

KEY STEPS IN A STRATEGIC REVIEW

So, having run and participated in numerous strategic review and planning initiatives for law firms all over the world, here are the top pointers we think are essential to getting the most out of valuable Partner time and ensuring strategic improvements can be identified and implemented.

1. Establishing a clear strategy and developing a plan for achieving it is best accomplished using a structured process. Set up a framework before you start so everyone knows what is expected of them and you have all the raw information you need on which to base decisions.

2. A strategic review can cover numerous law firm functions including business development, human resources, compensation, technology, pricing, financial management and leadership. Trying to address all of these areas at once is too broad and leaves little time for implementation. Decide on your immediate priorities and set realistic objectives.

3. Get outside specialist help when devising your strategic plan. An impartial third party can address difficult issues candidly, challenge pre-conceived bias and apathy, keep discussions on track and share the benefit of their experience of what works and what doesn’t.

4. Don’t be tempted to just copy the competition. Differentiation is key. The strategic planning process must be customised to your firm, its culture and stage of development.

5. Set goals that are both ambitious and pragmatic: Your strategic plan should have a meaningful payoff, while remaining grounded in a realistic understanding of what can be accomplished.

6. Don’t underestimate the resources needed to drive strategic improvement. You need to appraise your firms’ existing resources (skill sets, available time etc) to decide if you have the in-house capacity and capability to put your plan into action.

7. Invest time planning your implementation process and don’t delay putting it into place, otherwise your strategy will lose focus. Immediate successes are critical to building momentum.

8. At every stage in the development of the strategic plan you should consider how you will track it. Your strategic goals should be clear, time based and measurable. Quarterly reviews are a good time to see whether you have over or under-estimated what you have accomplished and if necessary make adjustments.

9. Remember that changes in the legal market – and in client expectations – are constant. Plans made only a few years ago may no longer be relevant in today’s dynamic and ultra-competitive environment so keep your strategy flexible and current.

TIME TO PRACTICE WHAT WE PREACH - ILFS STRATEGIC REVIEW

At ILFS we face a lot of the same issues that our clients do - we are mainly lawyers, we work (deliberately) in a similar way to law firms, use similar technology and need to drive our business internationally.

We spoke to our clients, looked at the work we had been doing over the last 12 years and considered the issues we had faced along the way. Whilst we had a clearly defined client base ‘independent firms that wish to develop international business’ - we realised we weren’t being as clear when it came to our service offerings.

Our main conclusion was that we weren’t effectively leveraging our extensive experience in international business and the type of advisory work we provide to clients on a daily basis. In addition to our core directory support service we found that, as a trusted advisor, we gave clients extensive support in a wide range of areas that were not mentioned on our website or presented as part of our offering to new or existing clients.

We categorised these as follows:

- Independent Review of Marketing and Business Development Plans

- Ongoing Support & Help Desk

- Relationship Building Programs / Roadshows

- Advice on Networks and Associations

- Media Planning & Buying (which we did previously offer)

- Drafting Legal Award Submissions

- Conference Planning & Support

- Content & Distribution Strategy

We also realised that although each of these services was consistent with our main objective of helping independent firms develop international business, there was no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Some firms would want holistic support, other just assistance in one or two areas. In addition, we recognised that we could add greatest value to clients that we worked with on a regular basis.

Pulling all of these issues together we created the International Business Builder (IBB) service – a formalised structure we can use to clearly articulate the breadth and depth of services we have been providing to clients for years.

The IBB looks holistically at all the main ways independent law firms could help grow their international business. By packaging the IBB service we can give our clients a much better deal – in return for a modest retainer they can benefit from free or heavily discounted services.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alex Holtum
Alex Holtum was originally a Dispute Resolution lawyer, working for Freshfields, Reed Smith and DLA Piper. He founded ILFS in 2005 and since then I has worked with firms in over 100 jurisdictions, helping them fast track their international growth strategy.

His role at ILFS is to act as primary contact for many clients, especially those that need help on a strategic level establishing and building their international profile.

Prior to founding ILFS he obtained an MBA from one of Europe's leading business schools and was a director/internal consultant at Ernst & Young, managing the support centre for their international network of law firms which consisted of 3,000 lawyers and 50 law firms in as many countries.

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While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.
For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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