Monday, September 28th, 2015
By Gideon Grunfeld
What kind of law firm are you building?
Whether you are a sole practitioner or the managing partner of a 200 attorney firm, that’s the question you have to constantly answer. You have to create the future in advance. That’s the essence of leadership. And one of the singular tasks of law firm leaders is strategic planning.
The phrase “strategic planning” gets tossed around a lot. It can be hard to define, but the idea behind it is unmistakable. You are more likely to grow and thrive if you follow a plan. Just as you can complete a jigsaw puzzle faster if you know what the finished product looks like, a law firm should know where it is going. And that is where an organizational chart comes into play.
But strategic planning requires a special kind of org chart. Unlike the chart that human resources departments churn out, you need to create the chart that reflects what you want your firm to look like in about 18 months. In fact, the best way to create the strategic organizational chart is to do it independently of the current chart. This is not an exercise in looking at precedent and extrapolating from there. That approach tends to generate incremental changes. And the whole point of this exercise is to see how far you can push your firm in the next 18 months. That is the best way to ensure that your firm will thrive in turbulent times.
In my experience the single most difficult aspect of creating an effective organizational plan of the future is visualizing evolving roles for existing partners. Most firms have some kind of process for identifying which associates are likely to become partners; that is an example of a more foreseeable change. But identifying a partner who would be willing to open up a new office requires an active and open-ended discussion of what’s possible. Likewise, too many firms fail to create succession plans for members of the leadership team. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that firm leaders will want to stay put, or that they won’t shift their responsibilities. That might be true, but the future of the leadership team is too important an issue to leave to chance.
A strategic organizational doesn’t have to be entirely accurate to be effective. The future can’t be predicted perfectly. But if you take the lead in creating the future you want, your firm is less likely to be the victim of circumstances.