Stratospheric Strategy Success: Eclipsing Mediocre to Meteoric

Why be mediocre? Smart strategy developed thoughtfully and executed astutely ignites success that is stratospheric.

Strategy within many law firms is considered optional. These firms prefer to do what they’ve always done, then sweat and bleed to grind out results.

That’s because they choose to play it safe and run with the rest of the competitive herd. But running with the herd does not protect you from harm, it simply makes you one of many.

Playing it safe is a prevalent trait within the risk-averse legal services industry. But how tiresome and dull, not to mention frustrating. This is precisely why I work only with those law firms and legal service companies that are audacious and who dare to position as one of one in their key markets rather than being one of many.

Being one of many not only results in lack of distinctiveness but also cutthroat competition that often culminates in chiselling down price for service. The bottom line, literally, is a race to the bottom with lean margins that disable investment in the business, which converts to growth stagnation and, eventually, failure.

The human impact of a non-distinctive, volume-based, low-price business is the constant search for new clients that, if you’re still billing by time, leads to clock watching, inaccurate docketing, and write-downs while not having enough hours in a day. The vicious cycle of seeking and securing new clients and work, then doing the work – for peanuts – and delivering outcomes that may or may not be expected by these usually demanding clients is a sure-fire recipe for a life of sheer hell. The stress can kill you.

Stop this insanity and do the following instead:

Start your smart strategy process by determining exactly WHAT you do best. Then, consider HOW what you do is uniquely distinctive from all others. This is the basis for building a legal practice, law firm or legal service company that sets you apart, saves your sanity and, perhaps, your life.

What is Strategy?

Strategy is the creation of new value: markets, services, products, solutions, direction, etc. New value drives economic growth, market distinctiveness, and cultural differentiation.

Strategy is outward focused and targeted to your key market(s), industries, current and prospective clients, and talent acquisition. It is not an internally focused, navel-gazing endeavour nor a public relations exercise.

Smart strategy is single priority driven. Successful strategy results in one of one market positioning that curtails – and even better – often eliminates competition.

Distinctive market positioning doesn’t happen when you’re better than everyone else or even the best. It happens when you can identify, claim, and prove that you are the one and only.

Strategy requires on-going development that must be revisited on a regularly scheduled basis and altered as necessary. This is because strategy is not static. It’s an organic, living, breathing entity.

Strategy done well is not a planning exercise. In fact, the phrase “strategic planning” is an oxymoron because as I’ve said repeatedly, “Strategy is a set of choices that position you to win your key objectives. Planning is a measurable action and/or behaviour set to happen within a specific timeframe. Strategy is one thing while planning is another, yet these words have been paired together as if they’re a logical fit. But they are not.”

Strategy is hardcore business that compounds the effort expended to start it, stick with it, and stay the course. This is why developing, nailing, and nurturing smart strategy is tough stuff undertaken only by the brave and committed.

Articulating and building on a law firm or legal service company’s unique culture – and, yes, you have one – is foundational to developing successful strategy. That’s because culture is the bedrock in which you embed four key pillars of strategy: business, markets, management, and clients.

Built upon and reinforced by culture, these four strategy pillars combine to become a distinctive beacon that attracts and retains talent along with clients who have the calibre of work that the firm or company does best and wants most.

Four Pillars of Smart Strategy

1. Business Strategy

Business strategy is the master plan that determines the expectations and outcomes of what a law firm or legal service company provides.

Business strategy asks questions pertaining to ‘why’. Answers provide foundational reasoning for corporate decisions along with principles and direction, and how they relate directly to and affect outcomes. For example:

  • Why certain types of work are and are not accepted
  • Why the firm or company operates in select target markets
  • Why current and prospective clients and work are tiered, valued, and culled
  • Why specific expertise, talent, skills, and temperaments are mandatory
  • Why operational management is mandated to oversee and execute on business issues

Business strategy is the root strategy and fundamental to success. It is also rare.

Because business strategy is nonexistent within many law firms and legal service companies, results often manifest in internal struggles that include talent defection and high turnover, financial distress, forced mergers and takeovers, and/or dissolution.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

While a law firm or service provider’s business strategy must be uniquely one of one within its key markets, it needs to be foundational without rigidity. A business plan that supports the strategy needs flexibility to be responsive to economic and market conditions without – and this is the most important factor – being inclusive of all people, things, whims, and agendas.

Both the strategy and its plan require bright-line boundaries, ferocious enforcement, and leaders who lead from the front. This is why law firms that operate as glorified country clubs rather than environments of commerce either shy away from or outright resist business strategy often to their detriment. While these firms can be successful by accident at least for a while, they don’t usually stay that way for long or forever.

2. Market Strategy

Market strategy transforms business growth objectives into action. High level in nature, it requires big picture perspectives balanced with real world thinking.

Market strategy calls for audacious objectives, creative ideas, clear priorities, astute decisions, supportive resources, and time-bound measurement – all of which drive growth.

Most importantly, market strategy requires consistent execution of supportive tactics that, like Queen Elizabeth II said about the monarchy’s viability and visibility, “Must be seen to be believed.” Without prolific and provable action on tactics there is no strategy execution or achievement of objectives.

Market strategy is both an internal and external declaration of who the firm or business is and what it stands for. While market strategy must be true to who the entity is now, this strategy must be flexible to accommodate future change while remaining in alignment with overall objectives and core values.

3. Management Strategy

Management strategy addresses organizational challenges.

Management strategy transforms business growth objectives into actions and drives the execution of both market strategy and its supporting tactics.

Because management strategy pertains to people, systems, and resources, this is the point at which exponential growth within your chosen target markets can be compounded by careful, thoughtful, and diligent guidance.

Without management strategy, achievement of growth objectives pertaining to business strategy, market strategy, and client strategy will struggle and fail.

4. Client Strategy

Client strategy is the gold standard for every successful law firm or legal service company on a growth trajectory. As gold becomes more valuable when refined, so does a client roster that is managed strategically.

Smart client strategy hinges on recognizing the critical hallmarks of clients and work you want most while understanding that not every client or dollar is a good one.

Defining and refining the required qualifications of your most valuable clients and valued relationships is at the heart of client strategy.

There are three key features of client strategy that factor predominantly:

  1. Client Retention: Strategic management of clients that provide work you want and do best, and who are referral sources. Management pertains to consistently tiering, keeping, and culling both clients and work.
  2. Client Interviews: Two-way conversations – not check-the-box surveys – reveal nuances of clients’ current and future needs along with points of view. In my experience have done many client interviews, these conversations always solidify loyalty, result in new work, and lead to valuable referrals.
  3. Client Teams: A multidisciplinary approach that retains high-value clients by deepening relationships and enabling cross-servicing.

Stratospheric Strategy Success

Stratospheric success is ignited when these four pillars of strategy are crisply defined, dovetail to one another, and supportive tactics for each are clearly communicated, ruthlessly executed, and delivered in logical sequence within non-elastic time limits.

Tough? Yes. Doable? Absolutely. Results? Provable.

This is the method I have used to restructure businesses both inside and outside of the legal industry. Why? Because it works every time. Each of these restructured businesses experienced rocket-force liftoff, meteoric propulsion, and enjoy stratospheric success to this day.

By following this smart strategy advice, so will you.

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