As law firms work their year-end activities, there is much to do. Collecting bills, awarding bonuses, budgeting for the coming year, promotions, evaluations, and in some cases, compensation setting, are among the things on law firm agendas. Focused firms also begin, continue or complete identifying their strategic imperatives for 2015 so that the New Year has the direction needed for success. If well done, all of these activities and initiatives can be traced back to planning exercises in which common firm goals coalesce in the well-managed firm.
We all know, however, that the running of any business, especially a law firm, involves dealing with challenges that arise without notice or warning. Trying to plan for the unexpected is a little oxymoronic. Despite the apparent futility of preparing for the unknown, smart year-end planning anticipates the potential for adverse developments and the need to adjust.
With that in mind, here are five things any law firm should keep in mind when closing out a year and preparing for the upcoming one.
Plans Should Allow for Flexibility. A plan that is too rigid can fall off the tracks when the unexpected happens. Because the unexpected should be expected, every plan for the coming year should provide for some flexibility. With a flexible plan management is more likely able to adjust and respond decisively without abandoning the firm’s long-term strategy.
Stay Calm. When something unwanted and unexpected happens, all eyes will be on management to assess its reaction. If management panics, the rank and file will panic. Don’t let that happen. Show your leadership by being calm in the face of adversity.
Don’t Overreact. Any response to an adverse development should be proportional to the development itself. If some lawyers decide to leave for another firm, deal with it rationally and with a view to pursuing future firm success without the departed. Implementing procedures that treat the remaining attorneys as suspected rats on a sinking ship would create untold harm-not the least of which could be a loss of confidence in management.
Be Decisive and Quick. Twiddling of thumbs does not instill confidence nor does it resolve any problem created by the unexpected development. While the interests of speed should not come at the cost of sound judgment, finding a decisive solution quickly should be a paramount objective.
Communicate. Whatever the development or the firm’s response, communicating about the event, the facts, the solution and the planned execution is a vital part of putting the unforeseen hiccup behind you. The value of communication can never be underestimated. Remember, while management may have confidence in the response selected, the less informed professionals and staff will worry if not informed. Make sure a communication plan is developed and rolled out. It will pay dividends.
Poet Robert Burns often is credited with the well-known admonition “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” Law firms and their leaders should heed Mr. Burn’s warning and expect the unexpected, especially as one year ends and another begins. Will your law firm be able to weather the unexpected?