Most definitions of strategic planning focus on the idea that an organization needs to step back to look forward so it can determine its future goals for success.

  • According to one definition, strategic planning involves “envisioning a desired future and translating this vision into broadly defined goals or objectives and a sequence of steps to achieve them.”
  • Another definition is “the development of an organization's purpose and goals, beyond the immediate future, and actions to achieve those goals.”

Indeed, in an article that I wrote myself for my state’s bar journal about strategic planning for small law firms (link), I stated that a strategic plan “is a declaration of a firm’s longer-term business goals.”

But is that the reality? Do the law firms that undergo strategic planning really plan for the future?

In my experience, the answer is “not so much.”

Using Strategic Planning to Address Crises

Often, the demand for strategic planning is not created by lofty notions of partners wishing to carefully plan a law firm’s future. It is far more basic than that. Instead, it’s a cry for help to address an immediate or soon-to-be serious problem. In times of crises, firms will use the strategic planning process to finally get everyone’s attention and deal with the issue at hand.

More pressing, immediate problems can include:

  • A key practice area that is unexpectedly adversely impacted
  • IT infrastructure that is falling apart
  • One or more partners suddenly leaving to go to a competitor and they take their clients with them

As for soon-to-be pressing issues, the one getting the most attention at law firms is succession planning. Many firms will soon be losing their boomer attorneys to retirement—a majority of whom are key rainmakers, leaders or both.

Is Strategic Planning The Right Way to Move Forward?

You’re likely wondering, then, whether strategic planning is still a good idea even if the planning is not as forward-looking as is intended? As my fellow Minnesotans like to say, “you betcha.”

At a minimum, the structure of the strategic planning process provides a framework to tackle consequential issues. The process will probably yield a far better solution than a handful of free-for-all partner meetings would. Further, once strategic planning is underway, it remains very possible that the firm will see it as a real opportunity to plan its future goals above and beyond solving the immediate or impending crisis.