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Strategic Plans—Helping Lawyers & Law Firms Find Their Way

Plans are most effective when they start from an honest assessment of the firm or group or individual’s current situation.  Effective plans are based on competitive intelligence gathered during interviews or conversations with partners, associates, staff, clients, competitors, and business leaders.  Further intelligence is also gained through secondary and on-line research.  These assessments and competitive intelligence gathering exercises can be rigorous and thorough or quick and just in time, depending on the circumstances.  To map the correct route, you must start where you are and you must clearly identify where you want to go, as well as identify the obstacles you’ll face along the way. 

A well-designed plan should leave no doubt about the destination.  It should describe why and how and who and when, as well as where.  Some of the best plans are very short, and highly actionable, with clear assignments of responsibility and accurate timelines.

Recent Successes

The corporate section of a very large firm wanted to explore whether it was time for them to consider a strategic plan.  Allowing every partner free rein had been a successful strategy for many years, and they wondered whether a more organized approach would yield benefits and whether partners had the appetite for more leadership.  I interviewed several partners in advance of the retreat in order to better understand their positions and opinions, prepared a list of topics to cover based on those conversations, and developed a set of meeting guidelines to help everyone understand the behaviors that were desirable and those that would be unproductive.  During the retreat discussions, I helped keep the group together, bringing them back to the core agenda when they strayed, while allowing partners to express their thoughts fully enough to feel that they had been heard.  In the end, the group made significant progress and, post-retreat, continues to move forward under the leadership of a steering group.  Without having taken time to create buy-in from all partners, the nascent planning process might have been derailed.

In early 2006, I guided a small firm through a strategic planning process after conducting client, prospect, and referral source and competitor interviews.  After guided discussions, the firm developed a strategic plan that included a list of clients and prospect to cultivate and types of work to avoid, as well as an outline of the key strengths of each attorney.  We went on to develop management policies and procedures to ensure the continued success of the firm.  As the managing partner said at the conclusion of our meetings, “you made it possible for us to have life-altering conversations.”  No one could have touched me more—this is work worth doing.

Other examples of my strategic planning and facilitation work include:

  • Led practice group strategic planning meetings as well as countless client team strategic planning meetings for an AmLaw 200 regional firm
  • Facilitated discussions and development of an industry group strategic plan for a large Milwaukee firm
  • Developed formats for plans for practice groups and individuals for an AmLaw 100 national firm
  • Led successful pursuit team strategy discussions involving multiple offices and practice areas for a large North Carolina firm
  • Led successful pursuit team brainstorming and strategy discussions for a large Chicago firm
  • Led brainstorming sessions and developed a strategic marketing plan for a financial planning firm
  • Developed a strategic plan for a boutique law firm (work in progress)
  • Facilitated discussions (shared role) in preparing a mid-size Milwaukee firm’s first strategic plan
  • Assisted with development of and discussions  for a  Florida-wide strategic plan for an AmLaw 20 national firm

Presentations on Strategic Planning:

  • Featured speaker on facilitating client team meetings at a WJF Institute session for its clients
  • Chaired LMA’s Fall 2003 Symposium on Strategic and Scenario Planning, including design of curriculum, selection of instructors, and participating in a panel presentation
  • At the above symposium, chaired a panel of marketing and managing partners discussing the links between strategy and profitability
  • Chaired a panel presentation at the LMA Cutting Edge Conference in New York City (October 2003), leading a panel consisting of Tower Snow—Clifford Chance, Peter Kalis—Kilpatrick Lockhart, and Milt Stewart, Davis Wright Tremaine, through a discussion of strategy, profitability, and marketing
  • Co-presented with Susan Raridon Lambreth of Hildebrandt (then with Altman Weil) at Institute for Continuing Legal Education’s Second Strategic Marketing Planning Institute for Law Firms, Ann Arbor, November 1991, leading a group of managing partners through a two-day strategic planning exercise