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The strategic planning of law firms

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“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable” (Seneca)

Strategic planning is a process through which a law firm, regardless of its size, thinks about: a) where do we come from? b) where are we? c) where do we want to go? d) how can we achieve this? and e) when?

By way of comparison, and just as a building must be built on solid foundations, even before a law firm is created its managers should lead the process of explicitly defining the following aspects:
1. The firm’s mission or reason why.
2. The vision of law practice.
3. The firm’s values and philosophy or culture.
4. Information systems.
5. The strategy of its competitors.
6. Strategies of segmentation and positioning.
7. Corporate objectives.

There are law firm that do not really know what their mission or reason why is. Try this: ask the rest of your partners to think individually about what the basic purpose of the law practice is (the “mission”, in terms of management). The answers will be very different, and in some cases even dissenting. If this is the case you may have an issue.

The mission entails thinking deeply about your law practice, why we are in the legal industry. The firm should define its specialities, its business, or in other words its targets, and the benefits for clients, its own human resources and the company. In turn, the law firm should also define corporate objectives in the short, medium and long term, as steps to achieve its goals. All major objectives can be accomplished by splitting them into small objectives over time.

Vision means knowing clearly what the firm is and what it wants to become. Where it wants to go and where it does not. This vision must be shared by all the members of the legal practice.

Managers should instil values to differentiate the firm and facilitate strategy. Values should drive behaviour, action. It is indispensable a strong consensus-based system of values, compatible with the personal values of the members of the firm. The firm management must spearhead a permanent policy of promotion of values via a consistent discourse and action. Closely related to values, the success of a law firm is based on the existence of a culture (“how we do things here”) focused on quality of service to clients, creativity and participation.
Every legal practice should manage its information resources through a practical information system that makes it possible to pick up on opportunities and act. Contrary to popular belief, information is not power. Power lies in the use that is made of information.

The law firm should choose what type of clients and cases it wants. In other words, it should opt for a specific segmentation strategy. Segmenting means selecting which parts of the market the firm will target. These segments must be identifiable, measurable and above all accessible. We must choose segments in which the firm has a competitive edge.

A law firm must have answers to the really important questions, critical in securing a good positioning, or in other words, the right perception of the firm, its professionals and specialities among current and potential clients: what is the firm, or does it mean? How is the firm perceived (its image)? How do we want to be perceived (strategic positioning)? What are the priorities required to obtain the desired positioning? What is the most effective way of obtaining the clients we want? Which specialities will we develop? What can we do better than our competitors? Positioning, which should be supported by the firm’s strengthens, drives the marketing plan and determines the communication strategy of a law firm.

You need to know who your competitors are, their strengthens, and above all their weak points, what are they doing and how. There are law practices that fall into the temptation of imitating, benchmarking. In the best of cases such practice means adapting to the way competitors, normally leaders or winners, do things. If your law firm bases its strategic performance on such an approach, then you are not doing marketing. Those who imitate competitors are not doing marketing. You should promote the things that distinguish you, and innovate.

Finally, it is of paramount importance that you have a good answer to the following question, or in other words, an answer from the client’s standpoint: Why should potential clients choose us and not our competitors? Answers such as “because we are the best” do not work. The important thing is what you and your law firm mean to the client.

© Francesc Dominguez, legal marketing and personal branding consultant, www.francescdominguez.com.