Strategies which have been developed by professional service firms for areas such as finance, people, marketing, brand or innovation must align with and support a firm’s overall strategy. This alignment is important for both internal (partner and staff) and external (client and other stakeholder) consumption.

Small firms might say this is only for the larger firms, who have separate marketing and HR departments and the like. I disagree. I think every firm should and can develop a strategy around each of these key areas of practice – in many cases it only needs to be a one- or two-pager. The trick then is to align them.

Ensuring that firm, people, marketing and brand strategy aligns and does not conflict is one of the biggest challenges of strategic planning. You must achieve fusion and make sure you don't end up with a strategy gap ((c) Sean Larkan image)

What do I mean by align? It is really just about ensuring:

  • other strategies and their key objectives support firm strategy and do not conflict with the main strategy – in fact they should actively support it;
  • reality must match the key objectives – are they realistic or pie-in-the-sky? (for instance it is not uncommon for firm strategies or vica versa, people strategies, to make promises in regard to people management which are clearly not supported by the other strategy);
  • it should be clear that both strategies are firmly based around the firm’s core values;
  • what you promise you will do or will deliver must be seen to happen in practice; (e.g. what you promise about people in your firm strategy must be supported by the people strategy);
  • that resources are committed to support each of the strategies;
  • as far as possible that all strategies are seen as part of the firm’s overall strategic intent, not as separate unconnected items; and
  • that leadership is committed to all strategies and has played a role, if not in formulating/settling each, at least in signing off and checking on the implementation of each.

This alignment is easier said than done:
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Issues and challenges around pricing, alternative fee arrangements and value understandably still get plenty of air-time. They received top billing at the recent COLPM (College of Law Practice Management) Futures Conference in Chicago. I read through my notes from talks by two senior in-house counsel  – there are strong words and some important messages and tips for law firm leaders, particularly in non-USA jurisdictions:

In-house counsel are adopting different approaches to working with law firms around price and billing – some want a collaborative arrangement while others have had enough and are doing all they can to avoid using law firms. Firms need to take careful note of these developments. (graphic – Sean Larkan MPh)

Mark Ohringer, General Counsel of Jones Lang LaSalle (invented outsourcing of real estate management; top two property managers globally; 40 000 staff in 62 countries) didn’t pull any punches:

  • We have tried fixed fee deals and hourly billing with law firms – ‘in our experience it all sucks and the law firms simply don’t manage this well. I am flummoxed by how to deal with this – if I could have 100% of my legal work done in-house, I would – unfortunately for me, reality dictates otherwise’.
  • We minimise work we send to law firms as fees are not managed and are sky-high. ‘I choke when I see the bills that come through’.
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