The century plus old quote “success begets success” couldn’t be further from the truth. Today success only buys you the opportunity to survive to compete tomorrow.

Lest you think otherwise, the legal profession is no exception. The intensity of competition in our industry increases daily. The marketplace is littered with once highly successful law firms that awoke one morning to find themselves out of business. Scores of other firms wrestle with the realities of existence on the brink of, at best, enormous change; at worst extinction.

The good news is that survival need not be a mystery or matter of chance. Prudent law firms have found a way to constantly evaluate how they are performing, how their client’s needs are changing and what the competitive landscape looks like. Smart leaders find ways to set aside approaches grounded in we-have-always-done-it-this-way thinking, and critically assess ways in which they must change in order to compete.

One such law firm is 60+-year-old Dickstein Shapiro.

The firm had a long and successful history; but in 2014 it found itself at a crossroads. As is the case with so many firms, Dickstein Shapiro had been hiring lawyers year-in and year-out . . . and losing lawyers to the competition almost as regularly. They were experiencing the pressures that accompany a decline in revenue and profits.

The firm’s chairman, Jim Kelly, realized the firm’s old approach to business couldn’t continue if the firm was going to survive. The firm’s leadership embraced a significant change, and a new strategy marked by three critical cornerstones:

  • Hiring (and empowering) a chief operating officer;
  • Focusing the capabilities and practice of the firm — no longer would the firm try to be everything to everyone everywhere;
  • Empowering leadership of these focused areas of practice.

The story isn’t completely written; but the early results of Dickstein’s new approach to the business side of practicing law are impressive. 2014 revenue per lawyer is reportedly up 17 percent, and profitability is up 30 percent. This is pretty impressive for a firm that has shrunk by 20 percent.

The point of the story is not who and how, but the what. Too few firms routinely take the time to look at where they are and where they are headed. Even fewer take the steps that cause performance to improve.

If your firm doesn’t, implementation of an at lest annual self-assessment should be part of your approach to business. It is admittedly difficult for most of us to honestly and completely see our weaknesses or shortcomings. As a result, most firms find it helpful to enlist an outside advisor to facilitate a conversation and help frame an executable strategy. There are a few very simple and basic steps to significant improvement in the months ahead.

How is your firm performing?