Ways to Improve Your Law Firm in 2017

In mid-September, I planned an upcoming blog based on the Altman Weil article, 12 Ways to Improve Your Firm in 2016.  I finally had time to prepare my supplement for posting today.  Therefore, I am grateful to Altman Weil for the inspiration from their article, and must also share my condolences on the recent passing of partner Ward Bower.

As a guideline of sage advice for law firms, Altman Weil (a management consulting firm for legal organizations) produced a set of Best Practices from their leading consultants across four categories:  Planning, Economics, Lawyers, and Leadership.  I wanted to add to the list by including marketing-related recommendations.  Below, you will see their concepts in italics, and those from Flip Cat in regular print. 


1. Develop a five-year outlook for the firm and set goals to achieve that vision. Planning year to year is not sufficient. --Ward Bower
2. At a partner meeting in the first quarter, have your practice group leaders publicly commit to two things - and only two things – that their groups will accomplish in the next nine months. At a year-end meeting, ask the leaders to deliver brief progress reports and take questions. This simple process requires prioritization, execution, accountability and interaction – all essential elements for effective planning and implementation firmwide. --Eric Seeger
3. Identify a short list of key clients and create or update customized client service plans for each. --Alan Olson

4. Develop formal succession plans for the firm, each Practice Group, and each office, as well as for key clients. --Ward Bower

Flip Cat Consulting:  

> What marketing activities directly support your goals?
> Why?
> How will you undertake those activities?
> Who will be responsible/accountable?
> How will you measure success?
> What are the follow-up and follow-through plans?


5. Focus on profitability (rather than revenue) at the firm and practice levels, and develop an understanding of your major profit drivers. --Alan Olson
6. Take advantage of the data stored in your time and billing system and the many data analytics tools available to understand the cost drivers of one of your strong practices.  Use that data to make well-informed and competitively priced pitches for new work. --Rees Morrison

Flip Cat Consulting:

> Harkening back to Eric Seeger’s point in the Planning section, regarding the major profit drivers -- focus on how to capitalize on the top 2-3.  Also, determine if the procedures that make those initiatives profitable can be replicated in other areas to make them more productive.
> Your time-capture and billing tools are helpful means for identifying opportunities to build future business, to collaborate across the firm.


7. Pricing pressure and variable demand make it critical that law firms carefully manage headcount in 2016, as overcapacity remains a serious threat.  Law firms must show a greater willingness to accept flexible staffing arrangements and invest in productivity increases through more competent use of technology tools. --Jim Cotterman
8. Review work volume and demand trends in core practice areas and make a 2016 plan to address lawyer staffing gaps, growth opportunities or over-staffing to better match capacity with demand. --Alan Olson
9. Establish partnership criteria for economic performance that recognize 2016 market competitiveness.  Review current partner performance in light of the standards and consider cutting those who are not pulling their weight economically, relying on other partners to generate work for them, or blocking opportunities for younger lawyers. --Ward Bower

Flip Cat Consulting:

> Investigate prospective new hires’ interest in and understanding of their contribution to business development and client service, as well as the firm’s mission and culture.
> Because law firms will continue to see pressure from traditional and new sources of competition, it is imperative to communicate the firm’s purpose across all departments and levels of staff, not just the attorneys.  Collaboration across a like-minded team should produce results-oriented synergy.  External marketing is easily crippled or hindered when the power of internal marketing is neglected.


10. Focus on the basic blocking and tackling of managing your law firm as a business. In too many firms the demands of big rainmakers and big personalities take precedence over sound business principles and even above client needs.  In firms truly governed by business principles, clients and client satisfaction will be paramount. --Jim Wilber
11. One of the major causes of business failure is an inattention to market-driven signals. For law firms in 2016, the most important signals deal with what clients want, what traditional competitors are doing, and what new types of competitors are vying for market share. Law firms must find ways to systematically increase rank-and-file partners’ awareness of issues that are changing the marketplace.  Managing partners and practice group leaders can’t be the only ones with their ears to the ground. --Tom Clay
12. Empower your firm’s lawyer leaders and senior administrators to run their areas without interference and give them the authority needed to do so.  Look to the corporate world where senior executives work closely together as true teams, all pulling in the same direction. --Jim Wilber

Flip Cat Consulting:

> These responses echo what I have emphasized for years – seek client feedback as a valuable resource for business growth opportunity and areas that require improvement in order to grow.
> The more carefully and clearly you define yourself, the greater clarity you will gain concerning your targets and whom you serve.  Then, you will be able to create more effective and efficient marketing and business development strategies.

As we stand at the threshold of the final quarter of 2016, I encourage you to implement something from the above lists (Altman's and mine) - to ignite your plans now, before the first of the new year.

Flip Cat Consulting works with law firms, practice groups, and individual attorneys to design marketing and business development strategy.  We work onsite or remotely.  Contact us to arrange a free consultation.