A basic premise of strategic planning is to gather information to know who you are as a law firm. After all, if you don’t know who you are, how do you know where you want to go and whether you can realistically get there?

What’s most important during the strategic planning process is gaining an understanding of the firm from the inside and the outside. Firm culture addresses the former; reputation addresses the latter.

Your goal is to obtain an accurate self-assessment, with a focus on perception. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that culture and reputation necessarily mirror reality, because they don’t. They do, however, mirror the reality of what people think of your law firm.

Be Wary of Partner-Only Feedback

Some law firms take an extremely narrow approach to the strategic planning process by seeking feedback about culture and reputation from only their partners or shareholders. Lawyers, being lawyers, think they know everything.

Who could possibly be in a better position than the firm’s owners to know what its own culture and reputation are? Well, lots of other people.

Not surprisingly, partner views tend to be more aspirational. At times, those views even measure what partners want the firm’s culture and reputation to be—not what they truly are. Now, don’t get me wrong; partner feedback is important, but it’s only one among other data points to consider.

Incorporate All Internal Points of View

Gather feedback from additional internal players. This includes other attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants, and key administrative staff. They’re all a part of the law firm; why shouldn’t their opinion count? Further, at times, their views come from a point of view that few partners can relate to, leading to brutally honest and incredibly invaluable insights.

Get Out of Your Bubble

Law firm leaders are kidding themselves to think a firm can go through a strategic planning process without asking clients about the firm’s reputation. Their outside perspectives are mission-critical to understanding where your firm fits in the marketplace.

Many lawyers consider asking clients for their feedback, but often don’t for any number of reasons. The truth is the vast majority of your clients will not consider feedback requests a bother. Indeed, many will be flattered that you asked and will be impressed that your firm cared enough about their perspectives.

Travel Back in Time

I also encourage you to consider speaking with those who used to work at the firm—both attorneys and staff. Here you get both an inside and outside perspective. And, depending upon why the relationship ended, even former clients’ perspectives should be considered.

Get the Full Picture.

In today’s data-driven society, when conducting strategic planning, your law firm should expand its information sources for a more accurate assessment of how its regarded by the marketplace.