Best-laid plans: the importance of planning for law firms

Date: 13/01/2021
Author: karl morris
Company: Karl Morris - ActionCOACH

Business growth coach Karl Morris explains the strategic importance of effective planning for law firms.

Using the analogy of taking a flight (remember those wonderful times when we could jet off on holiday when we liked?), consider the path of a plane, from London to Geneva.

The pilots dial in the route, take off, sit back and hey presto – an hour and a bit later, the plane lands, safe and sound, having followed the exact route as per the plan. But did it follow the exact route?

Dependant on other air traffic on route, weather, airport space and other factors, the route can vary. Yes, the start and finish points stay fixed, but the journey in between has variations, sometimes every few minutes, sometimes by many miles, and so on.

Without the flight plan, however, which is still London to Geneva, how would the plane know how to get back on route, make corrections and so on? The pilots continuously re-plan and recalculate to ensure that the fixed arrival point is met. It might arrive late, but it will arrive. Without a robust plan in place, the temptation might be to land somewhere else.

Perhaps you have tried planning ahead, only to be upended due to unexpected circumstances. If you can’t rely on a plan to help you chart a course, why should you do it and waste your time?

To plan means you have a purpose in mind. While the tactics and strategies to achieve your goals might change, the plan – the foundations of what you want to accomplish – shouldn’t.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has illustrated for many firms how operating without a plan can be fatal. Firms that operated by the ‘seat of their pants’ found themselves exposed and unable to pivot resources to confront the challenges brought about by rapid changes in the marketplace caused by the pandemic.

Strategic
Strategic planning is essential to steer a firm and its employees towards the right destination.

Building upon your vision, your team can work towards the mission and culture as outlined within your plan.

The goals you’ve set in your plan helps the business move towards this vision – this is key.

The plan, however, is the important step that allows the leaders in your firm – the partners, senior team and so on – to work alongside your team and arrive at the correct destination.

Having a clear and focused strategy, which is communicated to all relevant team members, is key to performance.

My work allows me to delve into the planning processes of some of the largest law firms. I often encounter strong strategies, which are also poorly communicated to the relevant parties within the firm.

The plan has been created, signed off and disseminated to the senior team. But who else needs to know about it, or are ‘on the bus’, as we say in coaching terms? And if they are ‘on the bus’, are they sitting in the right seats?

In many firms, the goals and aspirations of the various levels of staff do not match the overall plan or goals of the firm, the senior team or the partners .

Therefore, how can a firm expect successful implementation? It just won’t happen.

Consider, then, how more effective your planning becomes by focusing on the next 90 days, which in turn is linked to your overall one-, three- or five-year plan.

With a 90-day plan, teams and key staff members can consider what is important to focus on at a micro-level, such as by week, by month and so on – keeping in line with the overall longer-term plan.

This then allows for change, for deviation from the overall milestones, but always keeping in mind the destination. Just like the plane, the destination is set, although the route might have some turbulence. COVID-19 was extreme turbulence.

My clients and I always look to put in place a 90-day planning exercise.

Sitting with the senior team, we consider the following key steps within the business planning process.

Mastery
Where are you in relation to the vision of your business? This is the creation of your firm’s ‘why?’. What goals have been set and how will they be measured? What time do your the senior team have to work in, rather than on, the business?

Niche
Where will your revenue and profits come from? What is the most profitable department of your firm? Who are your best clients, and why? How can you ensure that you have a reliable cashflow or WIP? How unique is your uniqueness? What guarantees do you have to ensure clients will choose you? How many strategies do you have to win new work, or retain current work, or perhaps to cross-sell, upsell and so on?

Leverage
What systems do you have in place within your firm? Systemise for the routine and human interface for the exceptions? Leaders manage the teams, teams manage the firm, the firm services the clients – does your current system match this?

Team
Who are your people? What are your recruitment, career development and retention processes? People leave bad managers, not bad firms.

Synergy
Is your firm a well-oiled machine? How well does your firm operate when the various key management / leaders are not present? What does good look like in your sector or niche?

Results
How can you aim for the level of a commercially profitable firm that works without constant input from the senior team? What will success look like for your firm in the next few years? How will you know when you have achieved this success, unless you create and communicate the correct vision, via a clear and precise plan, starting at mastery (see above)?

From the outputs of this exercise, my clients and I look in depth at each area and pull together a plan, match it to their firm’s vision, and create the required milestones and goals for the roadmap to success.

Conclusion
So, just like the analogy of the plane, having a clear idea of your destination point via your vision, creating an up-to-date, flexible, well-communicated planning process will allow for a greater level of success. Then, putting in place a 90-day plan to focus on the short term, will allow for the corrections, changes and bumps that will occur along the way.

Start with the end in mind.