“[L]eaders must have a sharp eye on the future, always considering how the law firm will evolve and succeed in the years ahead.”

from Decisions That Matter:  Tales of Law Firm Leadership in Moments of Consequence

Sustaining a law firm’s success is a nice challenge to have. For one, it means that the founders already have agreed on common aspirations, have tested them, and to some degree or another, are in sync.  That early success also may involve growth. But success in law firm formation and initial growth don’t necessarily assure long-term success or the creating of a legacy.

You see, sustaining a law firm’s success involves connecting the past to the present and from that creating a vision for the future.  When trying to ensure a promising and likely future, leadership cannot relax.  It must deliberately think about what it must do to remain relevant in the years ahead.

 Dedicated Leadership Focused on the Present and Future is Critical

 Unlike the exciting formation or growth phases in which objectives and identifiable goals may become top of mind as time goes by, a firm seeking to sustain its success must purposely articulate the direction it seeks to head.

To avoid becoming a compass with no true north, firm leadership must develop a thoughtful plan that addresses not only the present, but also the future.  “Winging it” won’t work.  The plan should identify objectives that can be managed to.  A firm’s plan for sustainability must bear a connection to the world in which the firm competes and be sensitive to where its market likely will go.  But as the world around the firm changes, the firm must be willing and able to adjust. Finally, the plan must be a realistic one in light of the firm’s talent.  Not only must the firm leverage its human resources strategically, but the plan must be built around concepts that suit the firm’s people and earns their enthusiastic support.

An International Success Story

 Probably no firm has built a bigger name in international legal matters than Baker McKenzie. Its story about sustaining its success can be traced to building a plan around its market niche and talent.

After enjoying steady success in its early years, the firm’s plan for its future was obvious—it had to continue focusing on serving clients who had legal needs that crossed borders.  Client matters in foreign lands had historically introduced Baker McKenzie to highly accomplished indigenous attorneys who were impressed with the “Baker McKenzie way.” In many cases, their experience and self-starting make-up convinced them to join the firm so they could continue working on the sophisticated international transactions that Baker McKenzie could attract. As the firm’s talent pool mushroomed, the firm’s market share of significant cross-border transactions continued if not increased. In a cyclical way, internationally accomplished attorneys at Baker McKenzie begat internationally driven transactions which in turn attracted more talent.  This focus on meeting client needs grew the firm, and lead to an expanding international footprint spawned by a growing economy in a world that was shrinking daily. The plan that saw Baker McKenzie grow across the globe perfectly leveraged the firm’s reputation and its people dedicated to client satisfaction.

The Lesson

 Taking a law firm’s early success and creating a legacy is not a matter of happenstance.  It requires a thoughtful plan with objectives that it and its people can pursue and meet. Without leadership’s focus, a successful future may not be possible.  Guiding a law firm so that it creates a legacy is one of the lessons found in our new book Decisions That Matter:  Tales of Law Firm Leadership in Moments of Consequence.