Technology has opened new dimensions in law firm strategic planning processes. As today’s leading firms focus on effectively executing on their carefully developed plans, they are leveraging technology, data, and most importantly an expanded emphasis on leadership.
A session in Litera’s Changing Lawyer Summit 2021 entitled “A Single Source of Truth for Strategy and Execution” provided some insight into the ways that technology is enabling more robust and well-executed strategic planning processes in law firms. The panelists included:
- Amanda Bakken, Director of Business Development at Stinson LLP
- Richard Punt, with a background of key strategic roles at Deloitte, Allen and Overy and Thomson Reuters, and currently the founder of Professional Markets, advisors to professional services organization
- Paul Devitt, who spent many years leading Addleshaw Goddard and helping to found EY Law, currently co-founder of Next Level Leadership Coaching
- James Lawson, Vice President of Customer Success at Litera, with a background in customer success and business development roles at Oracle and other organizations
- Mandy Neske, Sales Director for Litera’s Objective Manager offering, moderated the session.
Those three components – technology, data, and leadership – are the critical factors that the panel returned to again and again as the baseline components of strategic plans that can really move the needle and guide a firm forward.
The role of technology in building a plan
Technology has transformed the way that strategic plans are built, shared, and tracked. Bakken provided a good example of this by recounting how Stinson used to create individual engagement plans in Word documents with all the inherent limitations of doing so, including lack of interactivity, difficulty sharing or cross-searing everyone’s plans. Many of them were created and then never looked at or referenced again.
Using Litera’s Objective Manager, a cloud-based strategic planning platform, those plans now stay top of mind because of tools such as due date reminders that keep the plans front-and-center for partners. The ability to search across everyone’s plans has also enhanced business development processes, including the ability to search for and identify others at the firm who might already be engaged with a prospective client that a partner might want to pursue.
Bringing those plans together in one place is a good example of a step toward the “single source of truth” concept. Individual plans for the firm have become less siloed and more connected to other plans, providing both individual partners and management with more transparency in the plan itself and the pace of execution.
The role of data in quantifying success
Lawson noted that, even with well-crafted strategic plans, firms are often challenged to build sustained adherence to those plans into their processes. What’s new today is that data is becoming the fuel that brings those performance plans to life. Today’s law firm intelligence solutions can pull data from disparate sources together, in a way that provides objective confirmation of how well a plan is being executed. “Data that quantifies success is increasingly popular,” said Lawson. Data provides the agreed-upon view of what actually happened in the firm, and which activities and approaches actually led to success.
Better access to data is enabling firms to shift from purely financial and productivity measures when measuring execution of their strategies. Expertise management, CRM systems, and collaboration platforms are among the many systems that spin out useful data on what’s really going on in a firm and between the firm and its clients.
The role of leadership in ensuring the effective execution of a plan
None of the real benefits of a strategic planning process can be attained just by acquiring the right software, however. A large part of the discussion was devoted to the question of leadership and the many ways that it plays out in successfully executed strategic plans. The panel touched on several aspects of strategic leadership:
- Personal leadership. Devitt emphasized the importance of leaders not just role modeling the right behaviors, but personally engaging in the planning process with partners. When leaders take the time to investigate and understand what the challenges are on a practice area level, and on an individual level. “When that gets translated into planning, that’s very powerful, because you’re not just saying ‘this is the plan; it becomes a conversation about the right behavior to execute.” That’s also a good path to uncovering blockers and barriers that leadership can perhaps address. Devitt described an earlier role where he set aside time twice a year to have those conversations with each partner. The benefit was that those conversations became part of the strategic process and partners knew that strategy wasn’t just a once-a-year exercise.
- Partners have to believe in the plan. Punt offered a four-point approach to ensuring that partners are on board;
- Don’t let leaders go off to design goals “in a darkened room.” Make partners part of designing a goal, so you are not simply communicating a predetermined goal.
- Be sure the plan reflects the goal. Too many plans are numbers-driven, while partners need to understand the behaviors and changes necessary to reach goals.
- Reinforce strategic behavior. Partners look to leaders and peers for clues about appropriate behaviors; that guidance needs to come in the form of day to day guidance.
- Link goals to compensation. There has to be a direct link between partners’ compensation and their contributions to the plan. As an example, Punt pointed to one firm whose point system rewarded those who took the lead in an important relationship for the firm. “Partners could not get into the top half of compensation if they weren’t doing that. That changed behavior really quickly.”
- Leaders should focus on external, market data. Firm leaders are in the best position to provide a top-down view of where opportunities lie. There is a role for a bottom-up approach to the firm’s processes and specific relationships, but outside data can tell the firm, for example, “whether all boats are rising, or are we taking share?”
- Collaboration does not just happen. Bakken emphasized the importance of having a common technology platform for goals and objectives as a way to grease the wheels for increased collaboration. Punt believes that the pandemic has increased the importance of being deliberate about collaboration. “Firms tend to overstate how much effective collaboration takes place, and it doesn’t just happen because everyone is in the office. Now firms are thinking about how to structure collaboration.” Technology can play a big role in providing that structure, and surfacing the data that feeds the collaboration. Punt added that many firms don’t put enough emphasis on collaboration with clients, in the clients’ own environment. The Big 4 firms are much better at this, he said, and as firms emerge back into the physical world they should spend more time on site with clients.
- Relationships, not just people, are assets. Firms love to talk about their skilled lawyers as their biggest assets, but Bakken pointed out that relationships are assets, too, and at least as important. A good strategy and objective management system will encourage those connections between lawyers and clients, but also between and among the firm’s own lawyers.
The emergence of better technologies for strategic planning and performance management is encouraging many leading firms to put a new focus on how well they are executing their plans. Technology, and a growing understanding of the data that can inform that execution, is important – but success requires a new commitment from leadership as well. This panel was full of insights about those new dynamics.
View the video of this Changing Lawyer Summit session here.
To explore more of the industry insights in Litera’s The Changing Lawyer 2021 research, download the full report. Recordings of the Changing Lawyer Virtual Summit sessions are also available on our YouTube channel.
Posted in The Changing Lawyer