Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Law firm business plan

May 16, 2012

Law Firm Business Plan Implementation and Accountability

Four years ago our 45 attorney firm developed and launched a strategic business plan. While we have implemented a few action items and achieved a few goals – overall our success has been dismal. What can we do to improve our success?
Many of our law firm clients tell us that they have problems with implementation and accountability. They debate the issues and develop elaborate strategic business plans but then have problems getting people to step up to the plate and help implement many of the tasks that have been identified. Often the problem with business or strategic plans is more the "who" than the "what." Getting partners to come forward and be willing to be held accountable for results is a major challenge – especially- in lone ranger firms where partners are not accountable to each other.

Often firms are strong on ideas but weak on implementation. Typically, there is lack of management and structure and a general lack of leadership and focus. Communication is generally poor. Partner compensation systems are often not defined nor tied to goal attainment or performance.

What makes strategic management projects so difficult is that they are often complex and results are not immediate and are often delayed into the future. It is extremely hard for a group of attorneys to focus on strategic long term projects when they are up to their elbows in daily crisis. Lawyers must learn how to effectively partition their routines to enable an appropriate focus on long term projects. Lawyers must learn to think differently. This will require changes in skills, behaviors and working relationships.

The primary problems facing law firms are accountability, implementation, follow-up, and a reluctance to explore new ways of delivering legal services. Partners must begin to raise their hands and sign up for special firm management projects and be accountable to other members of the firm.

Any good plan has an action item section with a timeline built into the plan with due dates and names of responsible parties next to each of the action items. Unless there is an action plan with consequences for non-compliance – there is little chance of success.

Also suggest that the firm discuss the issue of accountability in general. A group of lone rangers often have little chance of implementing firm level strategies.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Sep 21, 2011

Law Firm Strategic or Long Range Plans – Why Does a Small Firm Need One?


I have a small firm in Indianapolis. I am the only attorney in the firm and I have three staff members. I have been in practice for 30 years. I have been reading your posts on strategic planning. Why do I need one for a small practice such as mine?


A strategic or long range plan serves as the roadmap for your practice. When you go on vacation do you head out without a map, plan or your GPS. Probably not. The same should be true for your practice. A plan defines who you are, where the firm should be heading, and how you get there. It helps focus you as well as your staff and improves productivity, accountability, and alignment with your goals. It identifies what work your firm does (or sometimes more importantly) what it does not do. In essence it outlines what services your are selling, to who, and where. Your plan then lists out the steps you should be taking to move to your desired future.

I have seen solo practitioners time after time reach their 60s and realize that if they had it all to do over again they would do things differently. Often they have completely failed to put in place solid succession strategy and realize no value for their sweat equity when they retire. A plan or roadmap can help direct your efforts over the years.

The important thing is to it keep your plan simple and update it often. Ten pages or less – in outline form. I have seen excellent one page plans. When circumstances change – change it. Review it every month.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

May 17, 2011

Law Firm Strategic Plan vs Business Plan


I am the firm administrator in our firm. We have 24 attorneys and are just transitioning to the 2nd generaton of partners. I have been charged with obtaining information on strategic/business planning. Currently the firm does not have a strategic or business plan. What is the difference between a strategic plan vs a business plan? Do you have a recommendation as to whether we should consider implementing a business plan or a strategic plan?


Often the term strategic plan and business plan are used to mean the same thing. The general planning process is similar. However, I believe there is a difference.

I consider a business plan to be the primary tool of choice when starting a new business or venture. Typically the audience is external – bankers, investors, prospective partners, etc. Due to the external nature of the audience the business plan document needs to be detailed with supporting narrative, company history, market analysis, marketing strategies, personnel plan, management biographies, and pro-forma financial statements.

A strategic plan is typically the tool of choice for a going concern business or firm – such as an existing law firm such as yours. The intended audience is internal and its primary purpose is to focus the efforts of firm members and employees. Much less narrative and supporting detail is required. A strategic plan uses more of an outline format with bullet points and much less narrative and supporting detail. A strategic plan in small firms is often ten pages or less and consists of the following sections"

The key is to keep it simple and develop a plan that will actually get used, focus the firm's efforts, and hold specific people accountable.

I believe that what gets planned – what gets measured – is what gets done.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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