You finally agree to set aside a day for a quarterly strategic planning meeting with your staff. Kudos—you’re ahead of 98% of lawyers who refuse to set aside time to think strategically about the future of their law firm. You won’t get anywhere without a vision for your future and there is nothing better than a day committed to crafting the vision.
Setting the Agenda (Your “Rallying Cry”)
What exactly do you do at a quarterly strategic planning meeting? Begin by setting an agenda. Your agenda might consist of the biggest management or marketing problem facing your law firm. Ask for your staff’s input about the #1 problem facing your firm and get their help setting the agenda.
The agenda should be super simple and measurable—avoid the temptation to bite off too much. When it comes to quarterly strategic meetings, LESS IS MORE. The agenda (a/k/a “Rallying Cry”) for your quarterly strategic meeting might be:
- Getting Trial Dates for Your Best Lawsuits within 90 Days,
- Measuring Smart Numbers (a/k/a Key Performance Indicators) on a monthly basis for Case Management, Income, Marketing and Website,
- Creating a 5 Year Strategic Plan for your Law Firm, i.e., What your perfect law firm looks like
Be as specific as possible in drafting the agenda and give the agenda to your staff before the meeting. Ask your staff to think about ways of fixing the problem and bring specific ideas to the meeting. The quarterly meeting should be a collaboration and exchange of ideas and the best input will come from your staff (because they understand the problems facing your firm better than you).
Rule #1: Meet at an Off-Site Location
Do not bother scheduling a quarterly meeting without following Rule #1: Your quarterly strategic meeting cannot be held in your office. It’s just too easy to promise you’ll shut the doors of your office and refuse to let anyone interrupt you, but little “emergencies” will pop up and inevitably, you’ll be pulled away from your meeting. You are wasting your time with a quarterly meeting held in your office.
With an off-site location, you are forcing yourself to spend the day focused on the biggest problem facing your law firm—you can’t wonder off to take an urgent phone call or respond to email. All of the little emergencies (i.e., phone calls, email and client visits) must be put on hold for the day or the quarterly meeting will be a waste of time.
The off-site location should be somewhere that no one can find you. This might be the jury deliberation room at the country courthouse, or a conference room at a hotel or a social club—it really doesn’t matter where, just that you are guaranteed 3-5 hours of total solitude and privacy.
Rule #2: Eliminate All Interruptions and BS
Ask your staff to clear your schedule for the day, i.e., no appointments, phone calls, etc. It’s tempting to squeeze in a phone call or meeting with a new client for later in the day, but this will get in the way of your commitment to focusing on the single most important problem facing your law firm.
Set 3 simple ground rules for the meeting:
- Turn off cell phones,
- No web surfing or text messages during breaks,
- No BS!
If your ideas suck, tell your staff that you want them to tell you. Your staff understands the biggest problems facing your law firm and you want to pick their minds for solutions. Perhaps YOU are the biggest problem facing your firm, i.e., you’re not responding to your staff when they need your feedback. You want to confront the issue, discuss specific ideas for fixing it and make a concrete plan.
Rule #3: Post Your “Rallying Cry”
This is the magic ingredient for a successful quarterly meeting: Post your “Rallying Cry” on a poster-board in your conference room. The “Rallying Cry” will be the #1 goal of you and your staff for the next 90 days and the poster-board will remind you to keep your Rallying Cry “top of mind” at your daily and weekly meetings.
Celebrate moments of progress when you reach important milestones. The “Rallying Cry” from our law firm’s last quarterly strategic meeting was simple: We wanted to get a confirmed trial date for our top lawsuits within the next 90 days. Challenging? Yes, but not impossible. Over the next 90 days, we celebrated when we were given each new trial date and with 7 days to spare for our 90-day “Rallying Cry”, we had 11 confirmed trial dates over the next 9 months.
The results are only possible when you have a vision that is in writing, posted in your conference room and discussed at your daily and weekly meetings. Ask your staff at every meeting, “What will you do today to help us toward our Rallying Cry?”
Avoiding the Push Back
Inevitably, it’s just a matter of time until new “emergencies” get in the way of your plans for a quarterly strategic meeting. Perhaps a Judge calls to order depositions to be held on the day of your quarterly strategic meeting or your trusty secretary is too busy for the meeting. This is when you need to avoid the push back (a/k/a resistance) to your quarterly meeting.
The best way of avoiding the “push back” is to schedule 4 dates over the next 12 months that are locked in granite for the quarterly meeting. Barring a death in the family, these dates for your quarterly meeting will not be postponed—you need to treat the date as if it is the same as a trial date. If you don’t take quarterly meetings seriously, neither will your staff.
And when push comes to shove, remember that you are responsible for setting the vision for your law firm. The vision for your law firm depends on YOU—if others are not on board, you need to tactfully and delicately tell them why the quarterly meeting is the most important thing for the future of your law firm.