Moving Forward…Strategically

Leading the Business of Law - ALA Legal Management - Nov Dec 2015

Most businesses, whether big or small, aspire to grow. As we all know, if we’re not growing, we’re standing still, losing momentum, losing competitive advantage — losing market share.

If we’re not growing, we’re becoming less and less relevant
to our targeted markets, whether those targets are small to
mid-sized businesses or Fortune 500 companies with global

Growth can be really hard, especially in terms of talent.
Recruiting skilled attorneys with expertise and passion for
the practice of law in a particular niche in today’s global
employment arena is a major challenge. Recruiting
graduating law school students is a different challenge, in
that many clients are unwilling to hire first- and second-year
associates, claiming that they are not equipped in the early
stages of their careers to add value to the legal services
product. (The law schools need to fix this dilemma, quickly.)

Growing revenue for your entity is an even bigger challenge.
As legal management professionals, we know that saying
focused on creating and maintaining a highly productive,
low-cost operational environment is important. However, the
truth is that more than 80 percent of the costs of running a
law firm or other legal service unit is the talent that walks in
and out of our doors every day.

You can and should be a leader in the planning work for your organization.

Controlling indirect costs, while important for a healthy firm,
lacks the return on investment you want for the highest and
best uses of the energy of the firm, your practice groups or
departments, your managing partner or chairman, and
frankly, for you.

While much more difficult than all the cost-cutting that many
of us focus on naturally, investing your time and energy in
helping your organization grow its revenue will have a much
more substantial impact on the long-term health of your
shop. But what can you do to add value in this effort when
you do not practice law? The answer is not as difficult as you

Make plans — strategic plans!

Just like our clients want our first move to be to jump to
planning instead of billing, our focus for our businesses
should be strategically planning for the years ahead.

As a concept, strategic planning can seem intimidating. It can
help to think about it like planning a road trip. If you want
to take a road trip from Nashville, you have to first know
where you want to end up. Then, it’s a good idea to map to
that location.

You cannot get where you’re going if you don’t know your
destination and don’t have a map to the finish line. Once you
have the route planned, you can determine more easily the
opportunities and threats ahead.

Now apply this to your business. Start by assessing your
organization’s strengths and weaknesses. This should
primarily be strengths and weaknesses as your clients
perceive them. They are paying for them, so they set the
value of them.

If your clients don’t know about your strengths, you have
immediately identified a weakness. You’re not valued by
your clients for the things your firm or department values in
its self-assessment. You are not who you think you are!
The next step in the process is identifying the strengths and
weaknesses as your targeted clients and your competitors
perceive them. Getting harder, right? While the hardest step
of the planning process, I find that the strengths and
weaknesses assessment is the most meaningful, as it can
focus you quickly on knowing where you want to go.

Get more specific by adding your whys and hows (strategies
and tactics). Before you know it, you have a clear roadmap to
guide the focus of the firm, which impacts everything from
which clients you want to represent to your ability to
generate revenues for those services. Planning, targeting,
focusing, specializing — clearly, today’s law firms and legal
services providers have to approach the business of law in a
much different way.

You can and should be a leader in the planning work for
your organization. You have the tools, knowledge, resources
and networks you need. So do it!

2015-2016 ALA President
Chief Operating Officer
Waller Lansden Dortch &
Davis, LLP
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