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How to Plan for the Future of Your Law Firm

A strategic quarterly planning day is a day spent with your key team members focusing on the biggest challenge facing your law firm. Your team focuses on a single objective (a/k/a “rallying cry”), e.g., intake system for new leads, and you collaboratively share ideas for improving the process.  There is no more valuable use of your time than a day spent planning for your law firm’s future.

Okay, but where do you begin? Your law firm might have a bunch of holes that need plugging and it’s easy to lump them together at your quarterly strategic planning day.  But when it comes to strategic planning, LESS IS MORE. Focus on only one challenge, collaborate and share ideas among your staff and document what each team member will do.

How to Work on the Business, Rather Than in Your Business

Strategic planning begins with an Objective and Key Results (OKRs).  Having goals improves performance. Public goals are much more likely to be achieved that goals that are held in private.  Identify your objectives and key results--for the law firm and each employee--over the next 90 days.

“Connected goal setting is critical to enabling employees to do the best work of their lives.”

John Doerr, “Measure What Matters

The objective is the directive or goal, e.g., “We want to perfect our intake process for new leads.”  The key result has to be specific and measurable. Name 5 things you can do that you will bring you closer to the objective.  By the end of the quarter, you can look and know whether you accomplished it.

The 4 Superpowers of OKRs

OKRs work because of their simplicity. Your employees focus on a single priority (objective) and they have individual key results (“rocks”) that are aligned with your law firm’s objective. Bottom line, your staff is on the same page and there is at least bi-weekly communication about the individual OKRs.  

“A few extremely well-chosen objectives impart a clear message about what we say ‘yes’ to and what we say ‘no’ to.”

Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel

As the owner of the business, you must embrace OKRs or you’re wasting your time. Is it worth the trouble? No company relies on OKRs more than Google, and it’s sort of worked out for them.

Superpower #1:  Focus on One Priority

What is most important for the next 90 days?  Ask one question, What matters most? Set goals from the bottom up.  Team members should create roughly half of their own OKRs.

“[T]he simple act of making goals open and transparent is a big leap forward.”

John Doerr, “Measure What Matters

Once you set a priority, you can create the agenda for your strategic quarterly planning day.  But what you think is most important might be different from your staff’s, so get their feedback by asking them, “What is the most important thing that needs fixing right now?” Your staff will probably know what needs fixing better than you.

Superpower #2:  Alignment

Different parts of the law firm working on different priorities—there is no alignment. Every work station should have a list of the employee’s individual goals (a/k/a “rocks”). Publish each employee’s OKR’s on a wiki website that anyone within your law firm can see, e.g., Fisherpedia.com, and make OKRs part of your wallpaper, i.e., post them on a whiteboard in your conference room.

“I’d never worked at a place where you wrote down your goals, much less where you could see everybody else’s, on up to the CEO. I found it illuminating, a beacon of focus.”

John Doerr, “Measure What Matters

At daily and weekly meetings, your team members should share their progress toward their individual OKRs. Why? If you don’t continually reinforce your OKRs, they will be put on the back-burner until the next quarterly meeting. Ask your staff how they are doing with their OKRs and what you can do to help.

Superpower #3:  Accountability

Don’t wait for end of the year performance evaluations.  Schedule monthly check-ins with your employees to see how things are going, e.g., monthly all-hands on deck meeting to review OKRs.  Use Slack, the team messaging app, to communicate among staff on the progress with their individual OKRs. The Slack channel provides real-time updates on the progress, or lack thereof, that any team member can access.

“If you don’t know how well you’re performing, how can you possibly get better?”

John Doerr, “Measure What Matters

At quarterly strategic planning meetings, review how things have progressed against your OKRs.

  • What are you working on?
  • How are your OKRs coming along?
  • What do you need from me to be more successful?

Publicly recognize achievements and make recognition frequently, e.g., replace “Employee of the Month” with “Achievement of the Month”.  Give specific performance feedback bi-weekly or discuss the individual OKRs at weekly meetings.

Superpower #4:  Stretch for Amazing

What would amazing look like?  Before creating Microsoft, Bill Gates’s crazy goal was simple: A computer on every desk and in every home.  Our law firm started with a goal of 1 catastrophic truck wreck a year, but that was not nearly ambitious enough, so we stretched the goal of 3 new catastrophic truck wreck cases per year.

“The harder the goal the higher the level of performance.”

John Doerr, “Measure What Matters

You must embrace the process.  On October 19, 2013, our law firm’s mission of 500 referral partners is a four-year OKR with rolling annual objectives (a/k/a base camps). Did we get there?  Not even close. But we more than doubled the number of our referral partners over the 4-year period and we set another Mission of 600 referral partners by October 19, 2020.

How to Use OKRs to Plan for Your Law Firm’s Future

Our law firm’s objective over the next 90 days is to improve our intake system. We spent a day of strategic planning at an off-site location to share ideas for improving our intake system. We created customized intake processes applicable to each practice area, e.g., intake questions for delayed cancer diagnosis, birth injury, etc., so our intake specialist will know what questions to ask.

After a day of strategic planning, we created these OKRs for the next 90 days:  

Objective and Key Results (law firm) for John H. Fisher, P.C.:

Objective:  Improve our intake system for new leads

Key Results:

  1. Define the intake process,
  2. Hire an intake specialist,
  3. Implement intake software, Lead Docket, for the organization and management of new leads,
  4. Synchronize Lead Docket with Infusionsoft and Trialworks,
  5. Create back-up solution for new intake phone calls when intake specialist is not available,
  6. Implement Call Rail and monitor intake phone calls,
  7. Create nurture campaign in Infusionsoft for leads that are declined.

Why We Do It This Way:  Our marketing dollars are wasted if we are not capturing and following up with new clients.  Capturing leads and following up with new clients is more important than marketing.

Align Individual Objectives with the Law Firm’s Objectives

Every team member will formulate quarterly individual objectives and key results (a/k/a “rocks”).   Ideally, individual OKRs will help accomplish the law firm’s objectives. If your law firm’s objective is to keep your operating expenses within a budget, the individual OKRs of your office manager should be aligned with that objective.

Objective and Key Results (Individual): Office Manager

Objective:  Keep law firm’s operating costs within a budget

Key Results:

  1. Keep Ruby Receptionist below 200 minutes/month,
  2. Keep Ngage Live Chat below $400/month,
  3. Report the law firm’s operating expenses/month

Why We Do It This Way: Keeping operating expenses within a budget is the best way to ensure our law firm’s profitability.

Giving Feedback that Makes a Difference

Most law firms (if they do anything) will have annual performance evaluations of their staff.  Annual performance evaluations are usually negative and do nothing other than alienate your staff.  Annual evaluations are too infrequent to have any impact and will be quickly forgotten. Bottom line, annual performance evaluations are a waste of time.

“Saying ‘thank you’ is an extraordinary tool to building an engaged team.”

John Doerr, “Measure What Matters

Toss out the annual performance evaluation and instead, give feedback to your staff about their past performance based upon the progress with their individual OKRs.  Recognition should be frequent, specific and highly visible, e.g., when an employee achieves a key result, give them praise at a staff meeting.

Take a Genuine Interest in Your Staff

Take an interest in your employee’s future—both personally and professional. When your staff knows that you care about them, they will walk through walls  for you. Ask your employees,

  • In what areas do you want to grow to achieve your career goals?
  • What skills or capabilities would you like to develop for a future role?
  • From a learning, growth and development standpoint, how can I help you get there?

John Doerr, “Measure What Matters

Go one step further: write a wall of praise/gratitude on a whiteboard in your conference room. When you praise a staff member, write it on the whiteboard and encourage them to do the same. The wall of gratitude will quickly become cluttered with remarks showing the gratitude of your staff.

What Works for Google Might Work for Us

Is this transparent OKR system worth a shot? Let’s give Larry Page, co-founder of Google, the final words:

“OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over. They’ve helped make our crazily bold mission of ‘organizing the world’s information’ perhaps even achievable.  

“They’ve kept me and the rest of the company on time and on track when it mattered the most. And I wanted to make sure people heard that.”

Larry Page, Alphabet CEO and Co-Founder of Google



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