While law firm change is scary, in today’s evolving legal services market the absence of change may be scarier. Law firm leaders don’t need to read expert’s opinions about the quickly moving marketplace, they see it close-up as competitors proliferate and competition intensifies. Simply standing still by relying on tried and true practices is not an effective response. More is required to transform your law firm for a better future.
Too often the press of business and comfort with the routine leads law firms to roll the calendar over, adjust last year’s plan, and forge ahead. But by taking a pause, law firm leadership can think about preparing for the future. If that introspection raises the concern that one’s firm is not sufficiently prepared for the years ahead, five steps should be taken to transform a firm for the future.
Perform a Firm Self-Assessment. If you are considering the need to move your firm from Point A to Point B, it makes sense to understand what Point A looks like. A holistic review of your firm is the obvious first step towards an effective transformation. What does your firm do well? How are you perceived by your clients? What does your firm’s financial performance show and what does that tell you? What does individual attorney performance say about your firm’s culture. Taking stock honestly and objectively allows a firm to understand itself so it can determine the change, if any, it needs to make.
Perform a Market Assessment. Like performing an assessment of your firm, it also is critical to assess your firm’s marketplace. In your firm’s traditional market, what has been its sweet spots? Similarly, what kinds of clients have fueled your firm’s past success? Are there trends that have recently developed regarding your firm’s market position? For example, are the firm’s client relationships waning, or becoming less profitable than they once were. Does a macro view of that market in the firm’s greater eco-system suggest that the firm’s position is headed to less prominence or that its practice is becoming anachronistic? A critical eye that examines your firm’s market presence and the market itself is essential when thinking about transformation.
Get out the Crystal Ball. After having assembled a dossier about your firm and your market(s), a comparative analysis of both with a view to the future moves your firm further in this exercise. Does that analysis suggest a need to restructure your firm to keep pace with a market that is already changing? Has your firm fallen behind so that it must catch up to a market that has already changed? The Crystal Ball really can get cloudy if the indications are that the market is likely to change, but its direction is still unclear. Getting ahead of a market that is changing or likely to change is a difficult challenge. But because complacency is not an option, thinking about the future and identifying objectives for the firm’s future is essential.
Develop an Action Plan. Law firm transformation grows from realizing that the status quomust, over time, give way to a new paradigm. Once a new model is settled upon, a plan for getting to the new approach can take shape. Like any attempted change, it has the greatest chance of being successful if the objective is clearly understood and specific steps for getting there are established. Experience has shown that a plan’s effectiveness requires a known objective and action steps with measurable milestones on the way to full implementation.
Create a Realistic Timeline. If specific steps towards a selected objective are identified through the development of an action plan, creating a realistic time-line for full implementation is the final step. Depending on where the objective falls on the continuum of change, the plan can be executed more quickly or phased in over a longer period of time. But for transformation to work, the timeline for the action steps necessary to fulfilling the objective must be carefully laid out.
Today’s firms that intend to remain relevant in the future will transform themselves to keep pace with the shifting legal services market. If your firm wants to be ready for the future, is it prepared to take action now?