Successful Business Planning for Law Firms

In two words :

SHIP IT

Meaning: do what you say you are going to do. Get it out the door.

Derek Sivers the person who set up CD Baby in the US and sold out for £22M after 10 years and the author of the magnificent book Anything You Want says:

“Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.”

Without exception all business plans that I have read feel the same:

  • Mission Statement
  • Vision
  • Goals
  • Revenue
  • Market
  • SWOT analysis
  • MARCOMS

I often feel I have picked up a mass-market leaflet selling garden furniture.

Really quite dull.

None of them are bad per se (on a scale of law firm ‘badness’ that is …). Their aims are laudable (even if a little quixotic in places), but the biggest issue is …

EXECUTION

How many times have you heard partners talk about plans that gather dust in the bottom drawer? It has become the norm. It’s like those drawers at home that you dare not open for fear of the crap that you will find.

If you want to be successful in your planning you need to change your mind set. Spend 10% on the planning (forget fine tuning) and 90% on the execution.

Measure yourself by (thoughtful) activity:

Did you speak to 3 old clients today?

Did you reconnect with old contacts on LinkedIn?

Did you deliver at least one presentation this week?

Were you asked to comment by the local press on a topical issue?

Did you speak to all of your fellow partners about clients that you could cross-sell to?

Have you looked at your top 10 clients and worked out how you can deliver a WOW service programme?

Have you spoken to at least one of your top 3 clients about something other than their problems?

You get it, hopefully.

I have pondered for a while why so few plans come to fruition.

FEAR

Lawyers use the excuse that they are too busy with the work to implement the To Dos in their business plan: “Client work comes first”.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that for a second.

The reason why you don’t speak to old clients or do something that is different to the same moribund stuff that you have been feasting off for the last 100 years is because you are afraid of failing. Afraid of looking stupid. Afraid of an old client talking to you about that job which you know wasn’t as good as it could have been (you were just too busy to give it your undivided attention).

For once accept that business planning is a mindset issue.

You have to understand that failure is part of the process of growing. Stop thinking about what can go wrong, and focus on a positive outcome.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I couldn’t have cared two hoots if the client said: “Not today, Julian”. I knew that, based on the law of averages, sooner or later, I would succeed. At my last firm, I did just that winning them a FTSE client based on one call and a meeting. Do you think I looked at the name and thought: “I’d better not bother because we are just too small”?

I recognise that for lawyers there is a chasm to cross, and some will never make it, but for those that have the gumption, steel and confidence to try then let them fly. Don’t stand on some pompous ceremony.

If you want me to dissect every business planning effort and tell you what would make the biggest difference then I’m afraid you need to go and speak to marketing. They will give you detail that you can bury yourself in for the next 10 years. But very few of them will have the autonomy to go kick ass with you.

Summary

Don’t stand on ceremony.

Do something. Do it now.

Fall in love with your telephone.

Stop sending emails, get out of the office and meet people.

Revisit your business plan once a week. Include some tasks and do them. The execution will drive the strategy. If you are a litigator stop trading on fear. Concentrate on adding value to your client’s business. If you can’t think of how you can, stop making up the next “what’s keeping you awake scenario”.

Live in the real world. Step away from talking in legal speak and really understand what service looks like. Would you pay £200 an hour (or a proportion thereof) to get an email saying “… we write further herewith …”?

The Devil is not in the detail. The Devil sits on your shoulder and tells you not to do something when you know you should (if you need to get this licked go read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield).

~ Julian Summerhayes ~