Start to talk about strategic planning and people start to get nervous. Forget about the name and the formality, and just concentrate on the elements. Consider the primary purpose for a business, IT, security, or marketing plan and just document the main elements. We really don’t care if you call it a strategic plan or a big notebook. By writing it all down in some format gives you a chance to look at what you need. We would rather see a well read stack of papers stapled together than a polished plan that was stored on the shelf. The majority of the firms we have worked with do a fair job gathering the information; they just seem to have a difficult time visualizing their purpose and organizing their needs. Eventually we get the vision down on paper with a set of goals to meet that vision.
The bigger problem is the business process. This word process seems to generate fear and lots of debate. Every firm we have worked with has a problem trying to describe their process. I believe that this stems from their roots as a skill based business. In any case, just forget about that word process as well and start thinking about what you do. The whole idea is to figure out how we are going to realize all the goals we talked about in the plan or that big notebook.
The next step after planning – I mean the big notebook – is process mapping. Before this can be done we have to know what you want and how you are going to do it. The input to this step is that big notebook. The idea is to figure out four things;
- What do you do really well?
- What do you need improvement in?
- What work do you duplicate?
- What did you forget to do?
Of course, we never say that we are process mapping – we are just observing. Once that step is done we look at the skills and tools you have as a resource. Most of the time we find an expensive case management system running that is not used much and a set of skilled people working on cases with a loosely defined process and few defined expectations. The second finding is almost always that skilled staff are duplicating work or doing work that is not part of their job description. If we can match the skills and tools to the process we eventually document and the process to what was defined as needed by the plan, we have a winner.
A law firm is a business and a business is like an orchestra with you, the firm owner, as the conductor. If we can orchestrate the needs, skills, and tools so that they are all focused on your vision we will be doing well. The problem is that for a whole host of reasons the conductor does not understand the vision, the staff is not working on the needs defined and the tools are not being utilized. This happened because the firm was never considered to be a high performance team. Instead the firm was looked at as a receptacle of diverse skills that are assigned to multiple task. Skills and tools were assigned to solve immediate concerns instead of realizing a common vision. For example, we have seen lawyers standing in front of the copier running copies off. Consider their hourly billing rate and calculate what it cost to run those copies! We have also seen the same generic client letter recreated many times in a day instead of a common template being used to generate the letters. We have seen staff members working on something not mentioned at all in firm’s plan. Eventually this drives the burden rate up and the Return on Investment down. Oh, and we have heard law firm owners ask what the heck is ROI.
Start looking at your law firm as a business. You must take care of your business so that your business can provide for you! If you can’t or would prefer not to manage your business, hire a business manager to take care of the business for you. After all what part of for profit don’t you get?