WHAT MAKES A GREAT LAW FIRM
CHERYL LEONE AND DAVE FAVOR
The path to a successful law firm starts at the top. The number one secret of a successful law firm is the realization that this is a business. Successful owners of small law businesses recognize that their first duty is to provide the leadership and direction for the firm. A simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. In a business setting, this would mean directing workers and colleagues with a strategy to meet the company’s needs. This gets all tied into the strategic plan which is the foundation for the law firm. Great law firms without exception have as its foundation the following
- Values to determine the core of decision
- Vision to set out the journey the firm must take to achieve success
- Strategy as to how the firm will realize its vision
- High-Performance Work Culture which includes:
- Desirable Work Traits required to work within the firm
- Defined job Descriptions with clear expectations
- Training to meet the expectations
- Defined High-performance teams
- The tools to enable success
This foundation is called the strategic plan. There is a lot of detail in a strategic plan, besides the vision, and one of the key points is:
- You must practice the theory that everything you do is for the betterment of your client. You must keep this thought instilled in all your lawyers and staffs’ memory banks to have a successful law firm and to have continued growth.
Often the strategic plan is the easy part. Once the plan is in place, the pressure of reality often hits. Once you start getting successful, you begin believing your own press. This is when things can go bad. At this point, if you fail to keep a strategic plan in place with an implementation plan, things begin to slip through the cracks.
That is all high-level thinking, so let’s look at the details. My guess is that this is what you really wanted to know when you asked your question. A law firm is made up of skills (staff), policies, tools, and resources (buildings, money, etc.). A law firm is like an orchestra that sounds good when everyone is on the same page and playing the same tune. Gone are the days that all you needed was a skill. In today’s competitive environment, you must be a team player. To become that, you must have the right skills for your job, understand how you fit into the strategic plan, and learn to be a team player.
That is a monumental task. We start with the strategic plan that documents everything, move to the process documentation that tells us what needs to be done, and then procedures that tell us how to do it. To get everyone marching to the same tune, we do training.
Leadership is critical in the firm, and there are many levels of leadership from the owner to the attorneys, case managers, and administrative support. Good firms, no Great firms, have a robust chain of command and everyone knows who the go-to person is. Without that, there is chaos.
We see leaders who struggle with making decisions. People in the firm want a decision, and they don’t care if it’s the right one or the wrong one. Well, we do, of course, but the important point is the staff wants to know what to do and they don’t want to wait 4 or 5 days for a decision. The key is they just want to know what they need to do next. And if you’re going to be a leader, then you’ve got to make decisions. We understand that bigger decisions do take a little bit of time. But in the day-to-day running of your law firm, you must be decisive.
That is only part of the decision-making process. You have to support the processes, procedures, and policies that have been approved for the firm. That suggests that to be a leader, you must understand and agree with the vision, values, and strategic plan for the firm. It is hard to be an orchestra leader if you do not have the music. If your decision is not in agreement with the documented process, consider improving the process. There is no reason to continually violate the process, to use templates that always need correction, or repeat mistakes. If the process is correct there may be a training issue, if not fix the process. The point is a leader completes the loop.
Again the owner of the firm sets the vision and the direction and with management creates a strategic plan. The firm creates an implementation plan that will work and follows it. It can’t be a convenience thing but a way of life.
Many organizations, like the ABA, would say that the most important tool in our business is software and electronics. That would suggest that one of the key skills the staff of the firm must have is knowledge of the technology. For the Solomon Law Group it would be a variety of tools;
- MS/Office (Word, Excel, and Office 365)
Now we are all on the same page, are trained, and we are eager to go. The number one rule is: you’ve got to add value to the client’s case. To do that, you must have or acquire the skills needed to use the tools and processes provided. A successful firm needs a capable and competent workforce that can attend to the financial tasks, technology support, and other professional services you offer. The skills needed will vary depending on the job assignment.
Attorneys should be committed to providing exemplary legal services. They have the added burden of understanding the law pertaining to the case types we handle. A law firm is a service business, so all staff members must be able to communicate with clients and each other. The accountability for case accuracy rests with the attorney, and the case managers are accountable to deliver the work needed.
Anyone in a leadership position (attorney, case manager, etc.) should have the mindset that the law office is a business. Every staff member that wants to be part of the leadership has a duty to market the law firm and be involved in their communities (school districts, youth sports, churches, and PTA). That brings us back to the strategic plan.
What is it that this business wants to accomplish? We have heard a lot of different answers to this question. The top two answers are; make money and serve clients. We can accept both of those answers. The absolute wrong answer is: I don’t know.
Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact email@example.com.