Business planning: it’s not rocket science – but it needs to work

Business planning: it’s not rocket science – but it needs to work

By Kevin Wheeler

As we enter the second half of the financial year, law firms should be turning their attention towards their annual business planning and budgeting round. Those with December year ends should already be well into the task.

Generally speaking, business planning is not something that law firms do well. Partners tend to think in terms of short time horizons, usually the end of the current financial year, and their “entrepreneurial” approach to practice development tends to put more emphasis on the opportunistic rather than the planned. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that so few law firms have managed to pull away from the pack to become genuinely distinct in the way in which they do business – most major commercial law firms still look and feel the same.

When the legal market was booming and there was plenty of work for all, such a sloppy approach to planning didn’t really matter. But now that the market is so competitive, and given that most of the major firms are so large and complex in their organisational structure and jurisdictional coverage, good business planning is essential. The adage, “Fail to plan, plan to fail” has never been more apt!

Planning choices

In law firms you tend to encounter two types of business planning. The first of these is what I call the “rocket science” approach. Usually, this is a planning exercise driven by a non-lawyer member of the management team, often MBA-educated, who constructs an elaborate plan for the firm, complete with wonderfully complicated models and charts, and packed full of business clichés and management jargon. Because this elaborate plan does not have buy-in from the partners, or is remotely practical, it languishes on a shelf destined only ever to collect dust rather than to provide the basis for driving the business forward.


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About the author:

Kevin Wheeler has been advising professional services firms on all aspects of marketing and business development for nearly 30 years. As a consultant he helps firms to manage and grow their key clients as well as to win new ones. As a certified coach with WABC he works with partners and those approaching partnership to improve their BD skills.