More often associated with the vacillations of a law firm is a term like ‘ebb and flow’; ‘steadiness’ is the less regularly attached descriptor. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should let the car steer you.
Or, the ship. In nautical terminology, positive stability describes the tendency of a ship to right itself, when inclined. Obviously, as a sailor, or sea captain, it is important to be sure that your vessel is hueing straight through the water. Not that the perfection of the right angle will be retained at all times; underlying the notion of positive stability is that, even while a ship will rock slightly from time to time, it should always be returned to an upright, if not locked position. (Disclaimer: I know nothing about sailing, how did I do?)
I think this all makes up a useful analogy for small law firms, whereat stability of operations can be maintained over the course of a broad line, allowing managing partners some freedom to deviate from established processes without toppling overarching principles at the same time. Moreover, anchoring certain touchstone values means that there will be less deviation, in any event, even when painted as minor frolics. Managing a law firm with features of positive stability means that you are more likely to return to center more immediately.
There are certain things that you can do to keep your law firm on track (to mix transportation metaphors), and to discourage off-process behaviors:
Develop and Follow Workflows. If you handle enough of the same sorts of cases, you will develop a feel for how those cases develop, most of the time. For many attorneys, this is an internalized, gnostic approach, that never becomes formalized. For those firms that do formalize workflows, the efficiency upgrades quickly become apparent. The Checklist Manifesto, in part, described the importance of creating and managing simple checklists as a method for avoiding small, but critical, errors of process and judgment; the analogy to the legal field, even if less dramatic malpractice consequences attach, is apparent. Law firms that adhere to basic checklists, or, more likely in the law firm context, discrete task packages for specific cases, will not only find that fewer mistakes are made, but also that associates and staff can remain on the same page, with a clear knowledge of the major deadlines attaching each case type. One of the easiest methods that can be applied for the maintenance of an order is signposting, and that is what the adoption of task-based workflows stand in for. Remember these? Keep the path, reduce the pick.
Adhere to a Fee Schedule. I’ve previously written on the efficacy of fee schedules, here. But, the general idea is that you want to stick to a pricing platform, including in order to promote consistent discounting — if you’re going to discount. (My thoughts on discounting, incidentally: ‘Eh’.) And, if you, or your partners or associates, are straying from the agreed-upon pricing scheme, to reach for ‘friends and family’ rates, or deeper discounts featuring even lesser affiliations, then the way to return things to the mainline is to consult the fee schedule — which does not admit of plurality.
Stick to the (Business) Plan! This is sort of obvious, probably; but, don’t just write a business plan for your lender, or because someone told you to do it — write it so that you will actually follow it. If you have designed a comprehensive business plan, including deadlines for major events and for the accomplishment of significant tasks, following through on what you promised yourself is the surest way to keep your law firm moving forward. If you draft a compelling mission statement, you’re also more likely to stick to the core principles that you’ve derived for your business, which will offer protection from deviation from said principles, which may be pushed aside in the continuing pursuit of short-term monetary gain.
I recall that our own Heidi Alexander has promised a template business plan, which she will make appear in this very space. I wonder whatever happened to that . . .
Stick to the (Marketing) Plan! Many more law firms draft business plans than marketing plans; but, especially when you’re starting out, marketing plans are probably even more important, if for no other reason than that a marketing plan will compel you to track your soft costs (networking, writing), where you’re not making cash outlays, but still expending non-billable time. More comprehensively, a marketing plan will force you to create a mechanism for determining your return on investment for your various client-generating (or not) activities; and, at that point, you’re likely keeping yourself on track by doing more of what is working, and by tweaking or abandoning what is not. Both business plan and marketing plan establish goals for your practice; and, if you keep your ultimate goals in mind, you’re probably more apt to right yourself, when you list.
Talk Through It. One of the surest methods to make certain that folks are following along with the program is to get together, to talk about what everyone has been up to, on a regular basis. This could even be done in the context of regular marketing plan or business plan reviews. The more often law firm partners and employees talk about their shared goals and how to achieve them, the straighter and more paved the path to reaching those goals, on a consistent basis, becomes. And, yes, I know, many meetings devolve into a waste of time, which is why I’ve outlined some ways to make your meetings more efficient.
. . .
So, what’s stuck in my head this week?
The piano in this song is just sublime; in fact, I think that opening salvo is better than any piano work I’ve ever heard, including the intro to ‘Angry Young Man‘. (Did lightning just strike me? No? Good.)
This is one for my homie, Jeff Fortgang.