There was a time where, as a lawyer, all you had to do is get your law degree, open an office or join a firm, do an outstanding job and crossed your arms while clients came running through your door.
The idea was simple.
Through your impeccable legal work, each of your happy clients would come back for more and would refer others to you.
The law firm strategy was therefore: do excellent legal work and keep on doing more of it.
David B. Wilkins, professor of law at Harvard Law School and the faculty director of the school’s Center on the Legal Profession states:
“The thinking was that if you do excellent work for your existing clients, not only will those clients continue to come to you, but you’ll get new clients, and if you have enough clients, good lawyers will want to come and join you”.
With this mindset, by doing great work, you could keep your clients, attract new clients, attract great partners and continue getting more clients and more partners and the cycle goes on.
That used to be the strategy. If you operate this way today, it’s having an absence of strategy.
In the twenty-first century, legal markets have evolved. Applying the old-school mentality will most certainly lead to less than expected results or even a disaster.
In this article, we will look at an important, but perhaps overlooked, law firm strategy that can increase the overall health of your firm, prestige, market recognition and ultimately increase your bottom line.
What is overlooked?
Aligning your law firm strategy with that of each individual partner.
To align your law firm strategy with that of each individual partner, in this article, we will look at the following points:
- Understand your law firm’s current overall strategy
- Understand the strategy adopted by your key partners and stakeholders
- Determine if your law firm adopts a collective strategy as opposed to individualistic strategies
- Ensure you align your law firm’s strategy with that of the individual partners
Let’s get right into it.
Understand your law firm’s current overall strategy
The first step in this process to analyse your law firm’s actual strategy and understand what is your current modus operandi.
Are you looking to maximize revenues, opening offices in other territories, acquiring other firms, positioning yourself to attract top talent, penetrating new legal markets?
Whatever your overall strategy, you must have a good grasp of what it is that you want to achieve as a law firm.
Your objectives will serve as your frame of reference to compare your results and achievements and assess if you are on the right track or not.
It is not enough to define your external strategy and assume that your law firm will be able to achieve the intended results.
You must assess your ability in being able to implement the strategy of your choosing, how much resistance will you see internally and how long will you need to convince internal stakeholders to make the shift.
When we say internal stakeholders, we are referring to your partners.
To successfully implement your external strategies and firm positioning, once you understand your firm’s actual strategy, you must then look within!
Understand the strategy adopted by your key partners and stakeholders
The law firm business is unique and quite interesting.
When it comes to finding new customers and developing your firm’s client-base, you are confronted with an inherent conflict between the “firm” and the “partners”.
The partners are “owners” of the firm but the “firm” is the collection of “individual” partners.
Partners having a strong relationship with their client can have their own “strategy” with that individual client.
However, each partner’s micro strategy may not fit with the firm’s strategy at the macro level.
The more a partner has political influence in the firm and can dictate the direction taken with his or her clients, the more that partner has the ability to impose an individualistic strategy.
Therefore, it would be an important exercise to look at the type of cases brought by each partner and assess how they fit with your firm’s intended strategy.
To know your firm, you must get to know your partners and how they operate at the client level.
Determine if your law firm adopts a collective strategy as opposed to individualistic strategies
After having reviewed your partner’s individual legal practice, you can score your law firm on a scale of highly individualistic to highly collective.
A highly collective law firm is one where the individual partner will strongly adhere to the executive board’s decisions and strategies.
This can result in a more laser-focused implementation of any type of strategy at the expense of alienating some partners demanding a greater level of autonomy.
A highly individualistic law firm is one where the executive board does not have the same level of political and legal power over the partners as in a collective law firm.
In this context, the individual decisions made by each partner at the client level will shape the overall strategy of the firm.
This type of setup can help your firm bring in clients and drive revenue in the short-term but your firm strategy will be scattered and you will have no apparent or visible strategy in the market.
Smaller law firms can get away with this strategy but larger ones cannot scale as easily under this type of internal regime.
Individual partners bringing in clients can thrive but the overall firm may get exposed to undesirable risk and suffer by not being able to position itself in the legal markets of its choice.
Ensure you align your law firm’s strategy with that of the individual partners
With all the data in your hands, you are now in a position to make decisions as to how you will manage the internal alignment with your partners.
Do you want to adopt a more individualistic path and give each partner a higher level of freedom and autonomy to drive the business? Perhaps you are looking to increase your firm’s revenues generally speaking and then reassess your strategy down the line.
Do you want to take on a collective approach and devise a firm-wide strategy that partners will be expected to adhere to?
You can have a different strategy per region or legal markets and how does that reconcile with your overall firm objectives?
This is where you will need to make a clear choice.
Where do you stand?
The competitive landscape is changing for law firms. It is not what it used to be.
Finding talented lawyers to have them do a great job is no longer an option.
As a law firm looking to compete, grow and scale, you need to take a clear strategic approach and have a solid plan to orchestrate your growth.
You should ensure that you align your overall firm strategy with your partners and internal stakeholders.
This exercise is not going to be easy. You will face resistance and may see some partners abandon ship.
However, this exercise is essential for the long-term profitability and success of your firm.
Let’s consider how great organizations have achieved success.
Let’s devise and implement strategies the way it is done in the business world.
In corporate settings, the board of directors define the company’s overall strategy and push the strategy down. Internal stakeholders are expected to adhere to the strategy and all paddle in the same direction.
By leveraging talented and effective C-Level executives, corporations ensure the successful implementation of the corporate strategy.
Each individual in the corporate hierarchy is held accountable to align to that strategy and advocate for it.
When the corporate internal machine operates in full alignment with the overall corporate vision and strategy, the entire organization is then well-positioned to dominate.
As law firms, let’s operate the same way. Let’s operate like a corporation.
Let’s find the right balance between an individualistic and collective approach so as to maximize our law firm’s overall success. Let’s find a way to give enough room and freedom to each partner in exercising their entrepreneurial spirit while paddling along with the overall vision of the law firm.
Let’s start thinking strategy by thinking of ourselves first.
Does your firm have an executive board? Are you seeing success in how you are implementing your law firm’s strategies? Feel free to share your thoughts with us, we look forward to hearing from you.