For law firm leaders closing in on the end of 2017, there is no rest for the weary. They are working hard to finish the year off well. Collecting bills, distributing profits, retaining talent are just a few of the things on their to-do lists.
Even if 2017 turns out positively, it is no guaranty that a good 2018 will follow. Each law firm year stands on its own so resting on laurels is decidedly unwise. For that reason, even before 2017 ends, the typical leader must direct his or her attention to preparing for 2018.
For firms whose 2017 looks lackluster, efforts will need to be doubled to making 2018 a good year. Financial performance may be down, it may have lost key clients or attorneys, or it may otherwise have stumbled. But even firms that don’t have to worry about a turnaround cannot rest. Whatever a firm’s outcome for 2017, the following five things can be done to help make 2018 a better year:
Stimulate Thought Leadership. Today, more law firm legal work is commoditized. Commoditized legal work typically is low margin work and also is at risk of being replaced by lower cost providers, new systems, or taken in-house. High consequence legal work is the antidote to commoditized legal work. To help differentiate a firm as a serious resource for complex and significant legal work, leadership should strongly encourage the firm’s lawyers in 2018 to become thought leaders about today’s legal issues of significance.
Review its Strategic Plan. Every law firm should have a strategic plan that guides it to its objectives. For 2018, firms should extensively review their strategic plan’s features and principles. The plan should be tested against today’s current business and legal environment, the firm’s existing strengths and weaknesses, and the sentiments and aspirations of the firm’s owners. Is the firm on track or has it jumped the rails? Assessing the firm’s strategic plan in the existing environment, and making needed adjustments, is a great step for starting 2018.
Review its Talent Pool. Law firm fortunes rise and fall on the ebb and flow of talent. How good is your firm’s talent pool? Has talent been lost to attrition? Has talent underperformed to expectations? Should the firm go into the market to fill perceived gaps in it talent base? Evaluating your firm’s talent is a critically important step in the new year. Having quality talent is essential to achieving a firm’s objectives. Assessing a firm’s talent and any shortcomings is an excellent step for the new year.
Invest in the Firm’s Strengths. Gauging a firm’s strengths (and weaknesses) can come from the strategic plan and talent reviews. The reviews can help a firm identify where its resources should be invested. “Playing to your strengths” has great applicability for law firms. Because most law firms have limited capital, it is smart to direct it to the firm’s strengths. In the zero-sum game of law firm investment, investing in a firm’s strengths is a wise step for 2018.
Review its Culture. Most successful law firms have a well-understood culture. As the new year starts, a smart firm will review its culture and its recent performance. Do market forces, or attorney conduct, indicate that the firm’s culture is strong and resolute, or is it showing signs of change? A review helps answer the question. A firm whose culture is changing may want to quell the change. Or it may want to embrace the new direction the change is pulling the firm. A review of a firm’s culture helps keep everyone on the same page for 2018. That is what smart firms will do.
Planning for positive results in the coming year is something that should be a part of every law firm’s focus in early 2018. The steps to get that done do not need to be revolutionary-they can be fundamentally simple. The five ideas above are ones that any disciplined law firm can implement for a better 2018. Is there any reason to not try them?