I was doing a search of some old law firm documents recently, and I came across something I had drafted for my old law firm’s board of directors. I think many of the ideas are relevant today so I thought I would share it with you.

Years ago at my old firm, a group of us began brainstorming what we hoped would be the priorities and direction of the firm. When our firm leaders got wind of our brainstorming, they asked us to share our ideas. I drafted our suggestions.

Before responding I went back and re-read all of David Maister’s books and other materials he had available at the time. So, many of the thoughts I came up with were inspired by David Maister.

More recently I read an Economist Book Review: Staying on top, reviewing: Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. I have not read the book, but I found the review helpful. As a result, I updated some of my thinking. So here some of my past and current thoughts:

I believe our board of directors are too focused on “management,” and not enough focused enough on leading our firm. If our board spent time focusing on the top line (e.g., values, principles, mission and vision), it could transform those who work in our firm. To accomplish this task I believe the board should:

  •  Agree on the definition of success and a plan to get there. A definition of success and a plan to get there will help the board answer the following questions:
  1. Where should the firm invest in clients and what are the services to be provided?
  2. Where should the firm put its leadership time?
  3. Where should the firm invest the human and dollar capital of the firm?
  4. Where should the firm invest the talent of the firm?
  5. How should the firm identify the lawyers who are and are not making a contribution?
  • Define the characteristics of a “one-firm firm.” Our board uses that term, but our shareholders and associates do not really know what that means. (It could mean having a clear priority of client service first, the firm second, and the individual last.)
  • Using help from outside the board of directors and research and identify the emerging market for our firm’s legal services.
  • Define the role of our shareholders in terms of meeting the agreed firm’s definition of success.
  • Decide whether you need to restructure our firm’s compensation system to meet the agreed definition of success and our plan to get there.
  • Challenge our shareholders to set higher and higher standards for client service and then measure their success.
  • Demand higher and higher return on our shareholder’s use of the firm’s resources.
  • Create the environment in which our lawyers and staff can excel in client service and career satisfaction.
  • Establish and identify our firm’s “core” clients that will improve the firm’s competitive position and make it more profitable in the next 10 years and decide what services we will provide on a local, regional, national and international basis.
  • Decide with Practice Group Leaders and Industry Team Leaders  what competitive position will be sought from the clients and service areas. Do we want the preeminent provider of the service, one of the top few, or one of many providers?
  • Once the competitive position is decided, the board of directors should work with Practice Group Leaders and Industry Team Leaders to develop a set of actions that will make our firm’s services more valuable to clients than the services of our competitors, including changes in the firm’s methods of delivering services so that clients derive additional benefits from our approach compared to our competitors.
  • Develop “friendly skeptic” questions as outlined on page 228 of David Maister’s book “Managing the Professional Service Firm” to ask each Practice Group and Industry Team regarding their strategic plans.”
I thought these were very exciting ideas and would help create an energized and exciting “one firm-firm.”  Our group of brainstormers felt the same way. Unfortunately, other, well-documented events prevented this from ever happening.