Would you take a road trip to a place you have never visited without directions… no map, no GPS, nothing? I highly doubt that you would. Doing so would result in wasted time, driving around aimlessly with no idea of how to get where you are going. Operating your law practice without a development plan is a lot like taking an unfamiliar trip with no directions. Yes, you know where you want to go, but you have no idea how to get there. Any law firm leader with aspirations to grow his or her practice should take the time and effort to sit down and create a strategic plan of action. It makes good business sense and it saves you the financial and time costs of driving around aimlessly.
What is a development plan?
As defined in Forbes Magazine, a development plan is a strategic roadmap for building and expanding your business. It includes an analysis of where your firm currently stands, goals for where you want to be, and a comprehensive plan for getting there. Many entrepreneurs create a business plan when first opening their businesses, but seasoned business leaders often forget about this valuable tool after being in their businesses for some time. This can be a costly mistake though, particularly if you are interested in growing and evolving your firm. The same questions and concerns that led you to create your first business plan can help you through a transitionary period in your law practice.
What to include in a development plan
Before you consider what to include, you must first think about the goal of the plan. Are you interested in strengthening your marketing efforts? Maybe you want to explore another practice area. Your goal my be to increase profits by a certain percentage within the next year. Whatever the case, you first need to determine where you are going, so you can develop a plan that gets you there. The following are some sections that you might include in your firm development plan.
- Yearly Goal(s) – Forgive me for being repetitive, but I cannot overstress how important it is to have goals in mind for your firm. While this may seem like a simple task, it is sometimes not that easy. You may be in a situation where you know that something needs to change, but you’re having a hard time determining what. If you find yourself in this situation, you may benefit from completing a SWOT analysis of your law practice.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It provides you with a guideline for taking an honest look at your firm and identifying specific areas for improvement. If you are not familiar with SWOT, this TimeSolv post offers some useful tips on completing this analysis, aimed specifically at law firms. Even if you have already established a goal, completing a SWOT review may reveal areas for potential improvement that you had not previously considered.
- Monthly goals – Once you have long term goals in place, it’s important to break them down into smaller time frames. Goals are vague and broad aspirations, particularly when you are speaking in terms of years. Breaking them down into quarterly or monthly objectives can help make them more tangible and, therefore, attainable. For example, say your goal is to increase profits by 30% over the next year. This is a valid goal, but also be a bit intimidating. So, let’s break that down. Your monthly objective may be to increase profits by 5% over the same month last year. Now you have a smaller goal that likely feels much more attainable.
- Roadmap – Now that you have your goals, it’s time to create a comprehensive roadmap for reaching them. You need to specifically identify which member of your firm will be responsible for taking on particular tasks. For instance, if your goal is to increase your social media presence, who will be responsible for creating content and posting? You may find that you need to add a staff member or outsource this task. This is is the section where you create an actionable plan for reaching your goals and consider all of the necessary elements for implementation.
Though I have included the roadmap as a single section, it has numerous components that can be broken down into their own individual headings. Here are some other possible sections that may be relevant for your firm’s roadmap:
- Ideal potential client
- Staffing plan
- Billing rates
- Overhead expenses
- Practice area expansion
- Practice area reduction
- Performance indicators and review – Once implementation of the roadmap begins, you will want to ensure that progress is being made towards your goal. Don’t assume that this will automatically happen throughout the execution of your development plan. Instead, it is best to make these reviews and indicators an actual part of the plan. When you are trying to get fit, you schedule regular weigh-ins or fitness challenges. This is the same concept. First, you need to establish performance indicators, which are measurable variables that demonstrate whether or not your firm is on track to meet its goals. These may include a quarterly profit statement or new matter calculations. Just make sure to use indicators directly related to your overall objectives.
You may also want to include a strict review schedule in your development plan, to include when reviews will be completed and by whom. This is vital to determining the strengths and weakness of the plan, so appropriate adjustments can be made. Imagine how disappointing it would be to reach December of 2018 without obtaining your goal. Regular reviews can prevent that from happening, providing an opportunity to identify what isn’t working and fix it without wasting additional time and resources.
Remember that every firm’s development plan is different. All of these sections may not be relevant to you and your practice goals. This is also not an exhaustive list. You should add as many sections as you need to make your plan effective and particularly tailored to your law firm. Now get to planning and stop driving around aimlessly.
About Erika Winston:
Erika Winston is a freelance writer with a passion for law. Through her business, The Legal Writing Studio, she helps legal professionals deliver effective written messages. Erika is a regular contributor to TimeSolv and a variety of other publications.