Many law firm partners want their firm to either be pre-eminent or to seek pre-eminence. Few realise that there is a serious price to pay.

Look at the vision statements of most firms and chances are you will find words like ‘successful’, ‘leading’, ‘premier’, ‘top’ or similar. Nothing at all wrong with that. But the key thing to realise is that to seek and achieve such lofty visions takes serious commitment, both at the top and throughout a partnership. Without that understanding and buy-in from all partners, leaders and managers in a firm, any visioning or strategy process will be flawed from the core and likely be doomed to failure.

‘Pre-eminence’ – ‘yeah, that sounds good, let’s go for it’ one will hear law firm partners say, but how many realise that there is a price to pay for such lofty visions? The reality is that most firms seek pre-eminence or some version of it. However, if they are truly serious about such a vision, they must realise it takes enthusiastic and consistent commitment and adherence by a majority of partners to a wide range of key things. The firms that manage to achieve this rise to the top and stay there while others muddle along.  (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

What then is this price to pay if you seek such status? In essence it goes to the heart and core of everything you do in the firm but here is a framework of some key things that I feel will be an essential part of any such quest:

  1. Leadership: strong, trusted leadership, not just at the top, but throughout the partners and managers, and a proper understanding of leadership and how it can be fostered and developed;
  2. Direction and Vision: clear direction from the key leaders and an agreed vision bought into and understood by all as to where they want the firm to go and what they want it to be. This takes a very clear understanding of ‘basics’ such as which practice areas, industry sector areas and geographic areas will be focused on and how the firm will differentiate itself through particular ways of delivering service;
  3. Values, Ethics, Cultural Attributes & Guiding Principles: agreement and understanding as to the firm’s core values, its ethical principles and cultural attributes and assurance that relevant structures are in place to ensure these are lived and not paid lip-service. Firms sometimes find it useful to couch these as Guiding Principles;
  4. Strategy: essentially a high level plan for the firm outlining strategic key objectives (i.e. those things, the achievement of which, will have nothing less than a massive impact on the firm) key result areas and success factors and what actions will be taken by when and by whom to ensure implementation and achievement of this.  In conjunction there should be other strategies developed for key parts and activities of the firm like brand, people, finance and business development and all these must align and be stress-tested from time to time as to relevance and the achievement of objectives.
  5. Governance and partnership matters: partners need to know what is expected of them, how they will be supported, how they will be recognised or measured, what they will be paid and how they can progress in the firm. There also needs to be clarity around the true roles of partners in a modern successful partnership which of course goes way beyond merely being a good technical lawyer and churning out the work. Partners should also understand the concept of building capital fabric™ and building personal brands. They also need to appreciate that managing partners don’t have time to micro-manage them to attend to fundamentals – they are expected to self-manage and be self-disciplined otherwise they are not worthy of being partners.
  6. Good support services a sine qua non: it was not that long ago that firms differentiated themselves by how well support services were provided and run – in this day and age, when so much is now available and at reasonable cost, it is a given; every firm, large or small, should provide outstanding support, in all key areas, (HR, Finance, Information Management, Business Building/BD, Communications, IT etc.) for partners, lawyers and staff.
  7. Brand: a clear understanding by all members of a firm of brand, what it is, what it is not, its value, what the strategic key objectives should be in relation to brand, the challenges relating to building a brand around essentially invisible services as compared to visible products, the three key types of brand relevant for law firms, how to achieve brand fusion™ and avoid brand gaps, and the role of each and every member of a firm in building and supporting the brand.

If partners are truly serious about a vision of achieving pre-eminence or similar, they must realise it takes enthusiastic and consistent commitment and adherence by a majority of partners to a wide range of key things. Some of these are listed above. Firms that manage to achieve this commitment rise to the top and stay there while others muddle along.

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International