One of the most intriguing and sometimes most frustrating issues in strategic planning often arises when a law firm's leaders consider the question "What should we work on first?"
Among all of the attractive strategic goals that we have set for ourselves, which ones should receive the most immediate priority in terms of our management attention, resources, and action?
grab the low-hanging fruit
One traditional answer, which still can be a very reliable guide, is to "seize the low-hanging fruit." Work first on those actions that will:
- help to solve a significant problem
- achieve clear, measurable, positive results in a short time
- require little or no financial investment
- require minimal investment of partner time
Success with respect to even one of these"low-hanging fruit" initiatives can be a powerful motivator to tackle more difficult problems. It can also help partnerships and practice groups to advance their group development toward becoming high-performance teams.
For these reasons, this is where we usually advise our clients to begin their implementation of their strategic priorities.
but don't overlook the risks
Sometimes you can't go after the low-hanging fruit because serious risks loom on your strategic horizon. Even a relatively undefined risk, such as a potential loss of partners or clients sometime in the future, can become a serious threat if there is any reasonable probability that it could arise sooner rather than later.
For example, if you firm's career management and compensation policies make it more difficult for a woman to become a partner than it is for a man, you probably risk increased difficulty in retaining and recruiting good female lawyers, not only as lateral partners but even as entry-level associates. The fact that you have not yet lost any female associates or partners does not mitigate the risk of the loss of some of your most talented lawyers, suddenly and in the near future, as well as some of the clients whom they serve.
In such a case, the risks and their consequences can elevate what might seem to most partners to be a secondary priority (although nonetheless important) to the top of the list.
When reaching for the low-hanging fruit, remain alert to the risks that might be lurking in the orchard.