According to a recent video post by BTI’s Mad Clientist, Big Law is winning new work and new clients, due in part to the adoption of an aggressive mindset and the strategic allocation its business development and marketing resources. Having worked in Big Law for the last six years, this was one of two recent posts that validates my experience in Big Law amid a lot of noise about its decline (the other was a great article by Josh Kubicki of Seyfarth Shaw LLP, which appeared in the OBA’s JUST ‘Debatable’ column in June). Both articles underscore the importance of strategic planning in all corners of a law firm.
Having a strategy – a plan of action – that is well-informed and well-executed is your competitive advantage. The reality is that your competitors are engaged in strategic planning, with varying degrees of success, around areas of expertise and industries, client teams and regional markets. Client demand for more proactive and integrated service delivery from outside counsel also requires thoughtful planning and allocation of resources.
Some of the overarching questions driving planning are pretty straightforward: How can we better align with our clients’ business and legal needs, and service expectations? How can we be more deliberate in attracting more of the kind of work we want to do? How do we make this happen? The relative peace and quiet of late summer is a good time to reflect on strategic planning. For some, this time of year also coincides with the start of the budgeting process for the coming year – if budgeting is your prompt for business development planning, resist the reflex to just plug in last year’s numbers (and therefore last year’s activities) without some thoughtful assessment.
Developing a coherent, informed, consensual and realistic plan is hard work; putting and keeping it in action is even harder. There are many opportunities for it to come off the rails or fall by the wayside. Below are some parting thoughts on planning as I embark on some formal plan “check-ins” within my firm (again, it sounds easy but it isn’t):
- Preparing for the plan is an undertaking in itself, which can create a flurry of initial activity and a great deal of paper and data. Don’t confuse the research and pre-work with developing the plan itself. It’s the analysis and conversion of the analysis into goals and tactics that count.
- Honestly assess your clients, your capabilities, your competitors and the market. Use anecdotal evidence and hard data to develop an accurate picture of your current position, service gaps, and at-risk clients.
- Make the goals and tactics in your plan specific and action-oriented. Include tactics that can be measured and be clear who’s taking the lead on which goals/tactics. Establish timelines and make it clear that regular check-ins will be part of the process.
- Prioritize. Consider the opportunity cost involved in achieving your goals and executing on your supporting tactics.
- Ideally built on consensus, the plan should be shared within your firm and revisited often. This sounds obvious, but failing to share the final plan happens more often than you might think. Share it with your team and other departments.
- Engage your business development personnel throughout the process and implementation. We’re here to help shape and inform the plan, keep it on track and enable your success.