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Best Practice Tips: Investing in a Strategic Plan


Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I serve on the management committee of our 16-lawyer firm in Columbus, Ohio. We do not currently have a strategic plan and have been discussing whether we should spend the time developing one. However, we are not sure what a strategic plan would do for us or why it is worth the investment. We appreciate any thoughts that you might have.

A. One of the major problems facing law firms is focus. Research indicates that three of the biggest challenges facing professionals today are: time pressures, financial pressures, and the struggle to maintain a healthy balance between work and home. Billable time, non-billable time or the firm’s investment time, and personal time must be well managed, targeted, and focused. Your time must be managed as well.

Today well-focused specialists are winning the marketplace wars. Trying to be all things to all people is not a good strategy. Such full-service strategies only lead to lack of identity and reputation. For most small firms, it is not feasible to specialize in more than two or three core practice areas.

Based upon our experience from client engagements, we have concluded that lack of focus and accountability is one of the major problems facing law firms. Often the problem is too many ideas, alternatives, and options. The result often is no action at all or actions that fail to distinguish firms from their competitors and provide them with a sustained competitive advantage. Ideas, recommendations, suggestions, etc. are of no value unless implemented.

Well-designed strategic plans are essential for focusing your firm. However, don’t hide behind strategy and planning. Attorneys love to postpone implementation.

  • Find ways to focus the firm and foster accountability from all.
  • Keep strategy and planning simple.
  • Undertake a few projects at a time that can be realistically accomplished.
  • Delegate tasks across the firm.
  • Build upon initial successes and move to more complex strategies, which will require more difficult degrees of change.
  • Adopt management structures that enable the firm to act decisively and quickly. Replace structures that do not support such a culture.

A strategic plan is useless unless it is used. Don’t create a plan and simply file it. You must actively work your plan. Involve everyone in the firm, delegate action items, and require accountability. Consider it a living document: revise, update, and change it as needed. Refer to it weekly and incorporate action plan items into your weekly schedule.

Use your plan as your roadmap to your future.

Good luck on your journey.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, (www.olmsteadassoc.com) is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at jolmstead@olmsteadassoc.com.

Posted on Aug 09, 2017 by Sara Anderson | Comments (0)
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