Skip to main content

Strategic planning graduated from mandatory monotony to mission-critical.

Law firms have more money at risk than ever — and the future is made up of bets and choices. These bets include markets, talents, changing demands of law firms by attorneys and clients — and the free-for-all developing as law firms poach each other’s partners.

Strategic plans were once a discussion among a few partners. Now, meticulous processes with a combination of facts, trends, experience, ideas, vision, and intuition drive the most successful plans. Some firms are there — others are getting there. And a few don’t care.

Patrick McKenna and I surveyed more than 200 law firm leaders to delineate the state of the art — and how to make it better. It’s a cornucopia of approaches, processes, and results.

Use it to pick from the best. Use it to position yourself to help. And use it to help drive outsized results.

You can find the link to download the full complimentary report at the end of the post. Here are the highlights:

15% of law firm leaders characterize their strategic planning as excellent — with another 11% describing it as good. This leaves 74% of law firms with sub-optimal strategic planning — and likely plans.

69% of law firm leaders indicate strategic planning is more important than ever or nearly so. They see the risks — and the rewards.

6.5% of leaders eschew plans and are opportunistic. They consider themselves agile and have keen instincts. This too is a strategic plan — to be opportunistic.

79% of law firm leaders indicate they have written strategic plans. But most don’t see them as excellent — leaving work to do and decisions to be made.

Only 34% of firms interviewed or surveyed a majority of their partners as part of the process. This dilutes engagement at all levels as they feel excluded. It also reduces interest in understanding the plan — never mind implementing it.

45% include client surveys and feedback in their strategic plan. More than half exclude a vital guidepost in spotting opportunities from the constituency with enormous influence on your results. Clients offer a broad view of needs and see strengths in law firms they rarely see in themselves.

68.2% of leaders use a consultant to help facilitate the planning process. Of these — only one-third reported successfully implementing all of their plans. A good consultant will help — a mediocre consultant or less will hurt.

Leaders with internally focused plans are 20% less satisfied with their plans. These leaders intuitively sense how an external focus brings new insights. They also add energy and enthusiasm as it delineates more opportunities for attorneys.

35% of firms formed a dedicated committee to develop the strategic plan. These committees hold each accountable for bringing in the right facts at the right time. They add structure and accountability to the process.

Larger firms have more targeted goals and plans. 44.2% of firms described their plans as brief and targeted — this drops to 12.5% for firms with less than 500 attorneys. Brief and targeted beats broad and all-inclusive.

18.6% of leaders indicate they implement almost all of their plans. So many firms see their plans lying on a shelf or server somewhere. Implementation demands more resources than planning — with specific accountability for implementations — most often a key missing link.

Law firms can improve their strategic planning process — and develop more compelling plans — by embracing the following processes:

Avoid negotiated strategic plans

Law firms report the strategic plan is effectively a result of the ability of certain practice leaders to negotiate for their interest or goal — adding facts from clients and partners will help ground truth the plan — and eliminate negotiated strategies.

Add client input 3 advantages

Clients have a broad view of their needs and how they will change — in addition, 70% of law firms don’t match client perception — alignment is one key to success. And — they help eliminate negotiated strategic plans.

Add attorney input

It’s worth it for the one insightful new idea — and it will come from a place you least likely expect. You will also boost overall attorney engagement.

Lay out the process for all

Let everyone in the firm know what is happening and when. This knowledge boosts engagement and creates energy around strategic thinking. It also establishes a form of accountability to the firm for completion and implementation.

Short beats long

Take the time to make it brief and targeted. It takes more work and may demand more decision making — but it drives success.

Embrace alternative and nontraditional views

New market opportunities are arising that only associates know about. New regulations are creating counterintuitive opportunities. Talent retention demands new strategies not typically used in law firms. The pivotal insights and facts may lie outside the current field of vision. Multiple and alternative viewpoints — harnessed with positive energy — are one of the most powerful tools to make all this change work for you.

Attorneys love an intellectual challenge. It lies before you in the form of strategic planning. The firms upping their strategic planning process are the most likely to emerge as the next market leaders — and they will enjoy better retention as few things attract high-performing attorneys more than success — ditto for clients.

You can download a complimentary copy of the full report Dissecting the Processes of Law Firm Strategic Planning here.

Best in the market ahead.


Forwarded to you? Get your own copy every week! Subscribe below. 

Stay ahead of the market with BTI's latest research