Ask the Managing Partner of any 100 law firms to list their top 5 objectives for their firm, and 99 or more will say something that relates to growth in the number of lawyers, locations or practice disciplines.
Ask the same Managing Partners what is driving the need for this expansion and the response will most likely be something like:
- To send the right message to the firm — if we’re not growing we’re shrinking;
- We have excess office space to fill;
- Bigger means we’ll be better positioned to seize opportunities that might come our way;
- We must be bigger in order to be competitive.
Now, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with growth. And though there is no denying the fact that talking points like those noted above are almost always going to be part of a discussion, nothing about this kind of conversation is strategic. None of these reasons are likely to lead to long term success for the firm, its lawyers or those that you seek to hire.
A Better Conversation
There are strategic reasons to grow. Two of the best are:
- To respond to the expressed needs of a client(s) — real, not inferred or imagined;
- To position you to do more of the type of work you aspire to do.
Let’s unpack these a bit.
To meet the needs of existing clients is a great reason to grow. But, be careful with your conclusion. The fact that a client has a need for legal support in a practice area or location that your firm doesn’t practice doesn’t necessarily translate to an opportunity. The client may be very satisfied with existing counsel — and not inclined to make a move. Be clear about the amount of work and the likelihood that your firm will capture it.
Before considering growth in response to what you believe to be the needs of a client, have a conversation with the client. Explore their needs, desires and any current concerns. Let them know of your desire to be in a position to more completely serve their needs.
Only after receiving strong encouragement from the client should you proceed to further consideration.
Work you desire to do
In the formative days of most law firms, the founders possess a strong sense (or even written mission) of what type of work the partnership aspires to do.
To actually land that work is a different story, it is difficult to convince a client to send you work of a particular type if you have little to no experience in that area. But after having an opportunity, and performing well, you should find yourself in a position to do more and more of that type of work.
One additional approach to getting desired work opportunities is to hire someone who already has a reputation and developed practice in your targeted area. This accelerated approach to acquiring the desired work can be dangerous. If the person doesn’t share your values and aspirations the opportunity should be passed on.
Growth is alluring, and I am not sure why. The bottom line is that far, far more firms have failed because of an unstrategic (and rushed) approach to growth than from growing too slow. The importance of caution in growth can’t be overstated.
How and why is your firm growing?