Getting Into the Practice Plan

I’m reading Patrick McKenna’s new Slaw column offering advice to the newly minted law firm support professional. His three points, I think, are all spot on; and I say that after spending more than 12 years in-house. Generating respect as a non-lawyer within a law firm isn’t easy, but it is entirely possible.

No matter which role you play, the big challenge will always be to select the right projects. And the curve ball, is that it doesn’t matter if you believe that your selected projects are important or valuable. What matters is if those projects deliver value to the key stakeholders within the firm — see Patrick’s advice point #1. More critical yet, is if those stakeholders can see that value. Even with full business case support and numbers at your back, there will be times when “the perception of value” trumps all. If you don’t have “buy in” for those projects, simply put, you’d better have killer metrics coming out of the firm’s accounting software.

The impact points in law firms don’t stop at stakeholders though. If we’re layering up our analysis here, the firm’s management structure must also be taken into account. Two worthy additions to our list would be the firm’s management committee/group (however it’s structured), and the firm’s practice leadership. The later, in my view is absolutely key to delivering value. Practice chairs or practice leaders are not only stakeholders – which never hurts – but they are also charged with leading the firm’s business units. That means they have to create business value themselves in the form of tactical objectives with measurable deliverables. Sound familiar? Like someone you can align yourself with? Or better yet, like someone you could align your work with?

In my view, practice leaders are fundamental; and if the firm is doing any kind of business planning at the practice group level – that’s your gold mine. I used to visit each of our practice leaders prior to their planning period and see if we could get some KM or website oriented objectives into their plans; preferably something measurable. For the groups that took me up on it, they not only had an additional deliverable for their annual group plan, they also had someone that would make it happen, and measure it.

Most of the time, practice plans are closely aligned with the firm’s overall business plan (or at least they should be). But unlike the firm’s general business goals, practice plans are the translation of those goals at a tactics level. In turn, when I say tactics, your best bet is to think projects. Because if you want to pick the right projects… they should be close to be the same thing.

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