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Lawyers Who Fail to Plan Should Plan to Fail
by Barbara Lewis MBA and Dan Otto MBA

Year end is the time most companies undertake their annual planning process.   Many attorneys, however, appear reluctant to use plans, a technique that has proved reliable and profitable for other businesses.  Plans are the blueprints for starting, managing, growing, financing and operating a business.  You wouldn't build a house without a blueprint; neither should you build a law practice without a plan.  One of several plan types is the strategic plan.

The strategic plan is the foundation of most plans and is the first type an attorney should undertake.  Strategic plans outline the big picture- how you want your practice to look within three to five years.  Attorneys without a strategic plan may have more difficulty accomplishing their goals, since they have not defined clearly their future.  But a strategic plan in your head is no substitute for a written plan, which clearly articulates the various components in an organized and methodical manner.  

The strategic plan, the forerunner of all future planning, is a working document that should receive monthly review.  Now is the time to reflect on the past, define your future and develop a strategic plan to ensure success.  The strategic plan comprises four elements:

  • Mission Statement

The mission defines who you are today.  If you were riding in an elevator and someone asked you what you do, you would respond with your mission.  It usually describes your practice.

  • Vision Statement

The vision statement is critical and can be the hardest piece of the strategic plan to quantify.  The vision statement is a clear and unambiguous statement about what the firm should accomplish in three to five years.  Many attorneys give little or no thought to their ultimate objectives, other that the source of their next paycheck.   Partners may find that their views of the future are dissimilar.  Some want the firm to grow, while others are interested in keeping the firm at the current size but perhaps changing practice areas.  Obviously, partners must reach a consensus before   the firm can move forward.  From the mission to the vision,  that is the direction that you want to travel.  Deciding how you get there is the next portion of the strategic planning process.

  • Strategic Analysis

To develop a strategic analysis, list the strengths and weaknesses of the firm's internal structure.  For example, a strength may be a large group of referral sources or great rental rates.  Next, list the opportunities and threats or circumstances external to the firm.  For example, the economy and upcoming legislation which would affect a practice are in this category.  Events which could be both threats and opportunities also need to be included. 

The analysis section dictates how you arrive at your vision, because it defines your parameters and exposes challenges to be overcome.  For example, if your vision is to have three associates working for you and one of your weaknesses is delegation, your vision will be restrained until you solve your delegation problem.

  • Goals

The goal section is where you outline your plan to accomplish your ultimate vision.  The goals can be specific, such as making a speech at a particular organization, or they can be general, such as developing cash flow projections for the year.   Assign deadlines for completing your goals.

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