Let’s start by defining terms. There are a number of characteristics that might be used to bring definition to   “potential”  – size, profitability, locations, and so on. But, for purposes of this discussion, I define it as achieving the professional goals of the firm’s professionals. If, over the span of a career, the dreams, goals and aspirations of every one of a firm’s professionals were met, it would be hard to argue that the firm achieved anything short of its potential.

With this definition in mind, there are three keys to any law firm realizing its full potential:

  • affiliating with those that share a common set of aspirations;
  • creating a plan for achieving those aspirations; and
  • relentlessly investing time and money in a manner aligned with that plan,to the exclusion of spending time and money elsewhere.

Let’s look deeper at each of these three.

Common/shared aspirations

It’s difficult enough to chart and execute a path to success when everyone is on the same page. It is next to impossible when they are not.

Superior firms define aspirations in terms of the type of practice, including nature of services and clients, profitability objectives, role in the community, culture of firm, standards of performance and all other characteristics reflective of the firm that is being built.

The greater the alignment between firm members on these issues the greater harmony and ability to advance in the desired direction. The lesser the alignment, the greater the stress, conflict and ability to move in any consistent direction.

Eric Fletcher, a great market strategist, recently published this post that does a nice job of describing this concept.

Plan for realizing potential

Any business In pursuit of realizing full potential is best served by investing the time necessary to plan for their future. The plan may be the ambitious 5-year version or the more practical 1-year plan and budget.

A good plan brings clear and measurable definition to specific actions the firm intends to take during the plan period in order to move toward its potential.

Mark Haddad, of Thompson Reuters, provides a good overview in this recent post. The post’s stated target is small firms, but the principles are universal.

Execute with discipline

The rate and effectiveness of a firm’s movement toward its potential is directly tied to its discipline in the allocation of resources (time and money) to those actions that are deemed most important to the desired progress.

Every firm faces scores of options when it comes to the investment of its resources. There are new ideas every day as to “what we should do.” I remember well a common refrain from my executive team in an AMLAW 100 firm trying to execute with limited resources “the last thing we need is another good idea.”

The key to realizing potential is to choose  carefully — investing where resources will provide the greatest leverage in moving the firm forward. Deny all other expenditures.

So, in closing…know what your aspirations are, figure out how to realize those aspirations and don’t spend resources in areas not clearly aligned with executing the “how.”