lone tree at night

A managing partner of a client law firm of Walker Clark recently told me, "The problem with our firm is that we have too many opportunities and too many good ideas. At the end of the day we are like dogs chasing our own tails." This is a frequent phenomenon in successful law firms.

You have great partners in your firm. Their great work breeds even better opportunities. Sometimes the "brainstorming sessions" become more like Category 5 hurricanes. This can be a happy problem on the surface, but it hides the serious risks, such as:

  • trying to do everything, but doing nothing well
  • big investments of partner time and management attention on efforts that produce disappointing results
  • a frustrating failure to improve the overall business performance of the firm
  • the development among partners of an internal culture of frustration and cynicism, rather than well-informed optimism

strategically courageous questions

In many instances, these firms with "too many good ideas" have lost sight of their strategic objectives and priorities. This is not to say that an opportunistic approach to the strategic management of a law firm is always bad; but it usually fails to produce the best sustainable results. As a result, the partners charge off to begin to construct a tactical superstructure without a solid, well-informed strategic foundation on which to build.

Often, the partners are unable to articulate clear and consistent answers to questions such as:

  • What are we trying to accomplish, and why?
  • What is our likely long-term return on our investment of time and effort?
  • How will we know when we have succeeded?
  • What could be the first warning signs that will alert us to a problem before it becomes a crisis?

Perhaps the best first question of all to ask is "How will this action advance, in a clear and measurable way, one of our most important strategic priorities?" This sometimes takes intellectual courage, especially in high-energy law firms that are enchanted by almost every opportunity. Asking prudent questions can sometimes be perceived as not being a "team player."

This is why sometimes the best advice that we at Walker Clark can give to a law firm with "too many good ideas" is one word: "Whoa!"  

By taking time to develop clear, consistent answers to these questions, any partner can substantially increase the probability that the "next big new idea" will be successful.

Norman Clark