Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Law firm strategic planning

Aug 10, 2013

Law Firm Strategic Planning – Implementation – Responsibility – Accountability


I am the managing partner of a 17 attorney law firm in downtown Chicago. We are a litigation boutique firm with a majority of our work in insurance defense. We have been in practice for 7 years. While we grew quickly during the early years – we have reached a plateau and growth has stalled. We are planning our first strategic planning retreat and hope to develop a long range strategic plan. Do you have any suggestions?


Where more planning efforts fall short is in the implementation of the plan. The plan lays on the shelf and collects dust. I suggest that the plan be implemented through the firm's existing management structure, i.e., the managing partner, executive committee, the strategic planning committee, and practice area chairs.

Individual partners should be assigned responsibility and held accountable for the satisfactory implementation of each phase of the plan in accordance with an agreed-upon timetable. This should be done during the planning retreat session.

Status reports should be provided to the other partners in each phase of the plan in order to keep them apprised of the planning activities.

Suggest an online project management system (portal) be used to track progress.

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

Oct 19, 2010

Law Firm Year End Planning Retreat


Our firm is a 25 attorney IP law firm located in Washington D.C. Metro area. We are planning our year end firm retreat to plan for next year. This will be our third retreat. While we believe we have achieved some positive results from the last three retreats – we believe that we need to accomplish much more. What are your ideas or thoughts on the matter?


We find that many law firms try to use their retreats to be an extended version of their regular partnership meetings. They simply try to do too much. The agendas are loaded down with far too many topics. As a result there is a lot of debate and discussion on often day-to-day operational items and no focus on the more complex-strategic issues that often have been ignored or pushed under the rug.

This year try to do less and achieve more! Consider narrowing down the topic agenda and focusing on one of the following areas of concentration: 

Concentrate on an area and come out of your retreat with specific action plans which can be implemented and put in place.

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

May 14, 2009

Strategic and Long Range Planning in Solo and Small Law Firms

Question: I am a solo attorney with no other personnel at the present time other than virtual employees. I hope to add a staff member later this year or early next year. I am frustrated with the success of my practice and feel that I am lost and have no sense of direction or plan for the future. I have been to seminars that talk about the need for a long range plan but it seems that the mechanics of the process is geared to firms that have other partners. How can I best go about long range planning?

Response: Long range (strategic) planning is hard to do by yourself. It is not just the plan that you end up with that is important – it is the planning process itself – done over an extended period of time – that yields out-of-the-box-thinking and real results. Brainstorming needs to take place and you need to work on your plan over say a four to six month period of time.

A strategic plan is different than a business plan. A business plan is a firm startup plan and often used for evaluating whether to startup a business and for securing financing or capital. Typically the audience is primarily external. A strategic plan is for internal use and thus is more of an outline of the firm's mission, vision for the future, long range goals, objectives to be measured in the short term, issues and obstacles that must be confronted, strategies, and specific action items with timelines and milestones. The plan should be short 10 pages or less and should have an implementation focus. Accountability should be part of the plan.

We have numerous solo and sole owner law firm clients that have successfully implemented long range strategic plans. Often we have worked with our client firms on such projects as a part of our six month business coaching program. In this way we are able to do a little each week with the client and serve as an accountability partner.

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

May 11, 2003

Are More Law Firms Engaging in Strategic Planning


Are more law firms engaging in strategic planning? Have the results been successful?


According to a recent survey conducted by the Legal Marketing Association (LMA), 59% of the responding law firms (ranging in size from the largest to 45 attorney firms) have formal written strategic plans. Smaller firms have a much lower experience. In our experiences with smaller law firms we are finding that fewer than 15% have formal written strategic plans. I consider success to be achievement of measurable results as evidenced by achievement of the goals and objectives outlined in the plan and actual implementation of action items. Lawyers and law firms seem to do better at planning than they do at implementation. Larger firms usually are more successful in implementation due to availability of management resources, leadership and functional governance. Smaller firms tend to have problems with implementation. In fact, we frequently recommend that a firm address other management issues prior to engaging in strategic planning. If a firm is having problems implementing day-to-day operational decisions the firm will not be effective in implementing strategic planning initiatives.

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

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