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If You Fail to Plan…Plan to Fail
by Barbara Lewis MBA and Dan Otto MBA

 The end of the year is the time to review the past year and plan for next couple of years.  Known as strategic planning, the session is the “big-picture” view of where the firm or the individual attorney is headed.  As the foundation, the strategic plan is the first type of plan that an attorney should undertake.  Attorneys with no strategic plan will find it more difficult to accomplish their goals, since they have not clearly defined their future.   The strategic plan is comprised of four elements:  Mission, Vision, SWOT Analysis and Goals.

 The Mission

The mission, an easy piece of the strategic plan, defines who you are and where you are today.  If you were riding in an elevator and someone asked you what you do, you would respond with your mission. 

 The Vision

The vision is a critical and, oftentimes, the hardest piece of the strategic plan to develop.  For many attorneys, little or no thought has been given to where they want to be in three to five years.  During a discussion of the vision is where partners may find that their views of the future are dissimilar.  One partner may want the firm to grow, whereas another partner may be interested in keeping the firm at the current size.  Understanding the future view of all the partners is important when deciding what the vision will be and, subsequently, developing a plan to accomplish the goals.  

From the mission to the vision – that is the direction that you want to travel.  Influencing how you get there is the next portion of the strategic planning process – the SWOT analysis.    

The SWOT Analysis

The four components of the SWOT analysis are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.   The former two are internal qualities, which can be controlled by you.  For example, a strength may be a large group of referral sources.  The opportunities and threats are external qualities that you have no control over.  For example, the economy may be an opportunity, but you have no control over it. 

 The Goals

The final section of the strategic planning process is identifying your goals.  Now that you know where you want to go and you have defined your strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats, you brainstorm all the goals that you would like to accomplish within the next few years.  The goals are then segmented by functional areas, such as marketing, operations, finance, personnel, etc. and partners who champion each function area.   

            The strategic plan, the forerunner of all future planning, is an integral part of a business plan and a marketing plan, and the groundwork for many other types of plans.  Oftentimes, plans are developed and shelved.  The ideal plan is a working document with an action plan that should be reviewed on a monthly basis.   As the curtain drops on the final weeks of this year, now is the time to reflect on the past, define your future and to develop a strategic plan to ensure success. 

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