Creating a Strategic Intent for Your Practice

 In my article “Does a Law Practice need a mission statement” we looked in general terms at mission statements and their place with law practices. In my second article “Creating a Mission Statement for a Law Practice“, we looked in more detail at how to create a mission statement for a law practice.

We have considered how a mission statement can provide a practice wide focus for strategic development, can differentiate the practice from the competition, and provide (to both potential and current clients and employees) an engaging synopsis of what the practice is about, and its aims.

In this post I am looking at the process of how to strategically use and develop the mission statement to further advance the aims and direction of the practice.

The Influence of the Strict Traditional Hierarchical Management Structure

Top Down PyrimadWe have looked at how the strict traditional hierarchical structure, at the higher management level, can be seen by some stakeholders to be operating outside the normal collective and collaborative process of forming a mission statement and how this might restrict the wider stakeholder participation in the process.

Having shared one way in which I had engaged with stakeholders to form a practice’s mission statement I now need to return the criticism (which I agree with) that this method is in danger of being no more than a representation of the present and a statement of past achievement with little forward vision.

Building a Vision is Strategic

To address this point an approach of looking at this as a vision building exercise is the basic requirement. The reason for taking such direction is because the major elements of vision building are generally, as identified by Bernard Burnes (2000), seen as being strategic because of:

  • the conception by a practice’s higher management level of an ideal future state for their practice
  • the identification of the practice’s mission, its rationale for existence
  • a clear statement of desired outcomes and the desired conditions and competences needed to achieve these

Creating the Vision from the Top

It is now that the traditional strict hierarchical top down management structure, which had been considered to have inhibited the creation of the mission statement by the wider stakeholders, is and needs to be turned to an advantage in order to satisfy the major elements needing to be present for building the vision or strategic intent of the practice. It is the task of the Partners (or Directors) to create the vision or strategic intent, and ensure that the vision and strategy are realistic and deliverable going forward. This task and the exercise of overall control over this process is not unreasonable given that solicitor Partners or Directors have the direct responsibility in the first instance for complying with the regulatory and legal responsibilities of the practice as well as its employees.

Objectives of the Strategic Intent

Strategy Jigsaw Image LargeCreating a meaningful strategic intent with the outcome that it will be recognised by all stakeholders and sit in conjunction with the mission statement requires the identification, based on the strategic intent, of objectives which are seen as the specifically intended outcomes of strategy. Such objectives would normally be identified as being:

  • Specific – set so that there is clarity throughout the practice as to what is to be achieved.
  • Measurable – stated clearly, with tangible targets, what is to be achieved.
  • Aspirational – set at a level that provides a high enough challenge to motivate individuals although not so high that they are demoralized.
  • Realistic – achievable , based on a thorough strategic analysis.
  • Time scaled – a timescale should be put on the achievement of an objective.

Starting the process

However you might decide to start the vision and strategic intent creation process for your practice I would suggest that you start with a simple basic SWOT Analysis. The enables all involved to agree on the current position of the practice in business terms by looking at its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats which it is currently addressing or will need to be addressed going forward. As a general rule it is helpful to think of the strengths and weaknesses as being internal factors and the opportunities and threats as external factors of the practice.

Having determined the SWOT Analysis this is then drilled down into to form the vision and strategy going forward. To do this management will need to prioritise the issues listed on the SWOT, cross reference them and determine the required outcome to move forward with. Using a TOWS Matrix is a useful way to cross reference the issues listed on the SWOT and will provide initial heading for the strategic direction needing to be planned and managed going forward. Examples of forms of SWOT Analysis and TOWS Matrix are readily available as a template online with more detailed explanation of how these can be deployed.

Whether you use this or another method to form your  strategic intent and mission statement the overriding requirement is that the practice keeps such under review and monitors them to ensure their continued purpose, strategy, values and behaviour standards for the practice and its stakeholders.

There is no single one size fits all solution to creating a good positive strategic intent. I hope that my experience has help you with that task. Law practice management is a very unique mix of the best practice business methods and models together with the uniquely different and traditional operational structure of a law practice. It is the Practice Managers task to use his or her knowledge of how to be best exploit and fuse these together that is critical to achieve a successful outcome for a law practice in the modern world.

Author: Paul Wood, MA.

Date:   17 December 2016.

About the Author: Paul, a freelance and independent practice manager and mentor offers law practices his experience and expertise in legal practice management support. With 38 years of experience and knowledge in private practice with the last 17 being a practice manager / director. He studied for his MA titled ” Developing a Law Firm using Lexcel 2004″ while in fulltime employment. Paul was a guest speaker at the LMS Lexcel Annual Forum (2008) talking about “The Reality of Quality Standards”. 

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PaulW

PaulW

As a freelance practice manager I support law practices with their practice management tasks and strategic development. I have 30 years experience and the benefit of an MA in Practice Management.

4 thoughts on “Creating a Strategic Intent for Your Practice

  • November 17, 2016 at 1:11 pm
    Permalink

    Paul

    I would start even higher up the hierarchy; namely, the Primary Aim of the partners. What that means isn’t just a detailed scrutiny of the money — i.e. the PEP — but how they want their lives to be when the firm is ‘finally’ done. Absent that, the vision exercise/statement will quickly fall into disrepair.

    Best wishes
    Julian

    Reply
    • PaulW
      November 18, 2016 at 9:50 am
      Permalink

      Julian,
      Thank you for your comment and input. Yes I agree with your view provided that the practice has sufficient knowledge and developed strategic planning understanding for the higher level of thinking. I have found that the biggest block to this higher level of planning is the simple issue that it will involve the need to face up to needing to plan for succession. Hence unless you start by understanding where the practice is now planning for the future will be a dysfunctional journey into the unknown with little change of achieving the strategic intent.
      Kind regards,
      Paul W.

      Reply
  • Martyn
    November 17, 2016 at 8:52 pm
    Permalink

    Paul I think you have set out the methodology for how to create a mission statement for a law firm really well in this post and your other posts. In my personal view, creating a mission statement for a law firm is crucial because so many law firms can come across as without any clear definition about what they specifically stand for, and why they are different from the competition. The processes you have suggested are an excellent means of distilling that difference and specific aims for a law firm, resulting in clarity and purpose which can add much to a business planning and marketing exercise.

    Reply
    • PaulW
      November 18, 2016 at 9:51 am
      Permalink

      Ben,
      Thank you for your comment and observation.
      Kind regards,
      Paul W.

      Reply

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