It can’t be overstated. The legal services business is experiencing dramatic change.  For law firms as institutions, it is obvious because more work than ever before is brought in-house by clients, and alternative service providers are rushing into the competitive landscape.  Besides the increase in competition, there are technical and practice advances that have changed the way law firms do business.  Legal project management, once a novelty, is altering the focus law firms are expected to bring to a task.  Technology in law is evolving so fast that even law firms committed to investing in new tech have a hard time keeping up.  And artificial intelligence is finding its place in the ultimate objective of meeting the legal needs of clients.

With all the industry change, most firms know that settling on the status quo is risky. Still, more than a few firms are slow to change.  Some are overwhelmed by the idea of innovation itself or are worried about the appropriate time and capital to invest in its execution.  Without adequate experience or guidance, a firm can be paralyzed.

As your firm sets out to evaluate the right level of change or innovation it should pursue, four fundamental steps can serve as a guide.    Following these steps have helped many firms prepare for the process of finding its future.

Look Outward at Market and Practice Trends.  Preparing for the future requires a substantive understanding of market and practice conditions and trends.  Observing (in an in-depth way) the direction of other firms and the evolving expectations of clients is highly recommended. Staying attuned to these “best practices” that are working for other firms helps guide a firm into the future, not just the present.  By keeping abreast of the latest innovations, a firm will be better positioned to design its future.  But the effort to gain market knowledge must be constant.  A superficial review of the activities of other firms and trends in the market can lead to decisions based on false positives, or fads.

Create a Plan that Looks Towards the Future.  The frenzied atmosphere of the present too often can deprive leadership of the time needed to think about its past, present and future.  With the awareness developed by remaining well-informed about the latest developments and the direction of the industry, the firm should consider a careful review and possible revision of its strategic plan.  In that review, the firm should test its plan against the perceived direction of the firm and industry; and make adjustments as needed.  While this may seem like a small step, far too many firms go years without doing so and miss the opportunity to seize control of their future.

Manage the Firm’s Behavior to Build the Firm’s Future.  A plan for the firm’s future is meaningless without action steps to achieve the future identified.  For that reason, upon completing an updated strategic plan, the firm should create an execution plan to implement important initiatives needed to achieve the firm’s goals.  It should go beyond generalities but should identify specific steps designed to move the firm towards the future it has chosen.  A core element of doing so requires creating reward processes and procedures that encourage behaviors consistent with the planned future.  If the firm does not manage its people to the future it intends, there is little likelihood that the firm can progress in a way the future demands.

Nurture and Hire Talent the Fits the Firm’s Vision of its Future. Running a law firm is in no small part about the firm harnessing its talent to towards the firm’s goals.  A firm with a view to the future will work hard at making sure its workforce skills are compatible with the direction the firm is headed.  Whether the firm is going to invest in some or all of legal project management, technology, or artificial intelligence, it must have the right kind of people to leverage these commitments.  The firm can train its existing personnel or hire new people with the correct skills. Either way, the firm’s talent must be utilized in the ways needed to achieve the intended future.

Law firms that methodically approach their changing industry are the ones that are positioned best for the future.  Is that how your law firm is dealing with its rapidly evolving world?