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Setting the Right Strategy for Law Firm Growth

updated
September 30, 2022
24 min
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Lawyers often ask me: “What’s the best strategy for growing my law firm?” This comes with the territory when you run a business called Grow Law Firm.

And it’s a good, but a wrong question. A better question is this: “What is the right strategy for growing my law firm?”

The answer really depends on the type of law firm you’re trying to grow, and requires you to do some thinking before I can provide you with a good answer.

What does your dream business look like when it’s done and what’s your exit strategy?

For example, you might tell me you want to create a law firm you can sell for $10 million when you are ready to retire. That’s a dream and an exit strategy all wrapped up in one.

Once I know these, I can help you craft a strategic plan that will allow you to reach your goals.

Why Should You Invest in Your Legal Practice Growth Strategy?

Law practices should invest in a Law firm growth strategy because opportunities are re-emerging now that didn’t exist during the pandemic. This shift means the best time to invest in law firm strategic planning is right now.

Like practitioners in other industries, law firms felt the impacts of COVID, and that changed priorities for a year or two. As we are solidly in the recovery phase, many law practices are now refocused on growth. However, many are discovering that the law firm growth strategy they had adopted previously needs some adjusting.

Why the need to revisit your law firm strategy for growth? Chances are that you put many of your law firm growth strategies on hold during the pandemic. Now, your priorities, staffing, and business model may have shifted. Your law firm may not be able to simply pick up its old law firm growth strategy and run with it.

The challenge is creating a law firm strategic plan that takes into account your firm’s unique needs, challenges, and goals. This guide provides a phased approach that makes law firm strategic development a possibility for every law office.

Your Law Firm Becomes Part of the Competition

The legal industry has changed significantly and continues to evolve. New technologies, the recession, and the pandemic have all influenced these shifts.

There’s certainly no denying how the availability of legal information has changed things. People can quickly access attorney social media, news publications, law publications, and other resources. This development has created some intense competition between law firms. If you want to remain competitive, your law firm must really stand out.

Because of this level of competition, law firms can no longer be as confident that their existing clients will continue to be loyal or that it will be easy to acquire new business. A good law firm growth strategy will need to be created with this new ecosystem in mind.

The truth is that most lawyers know what their law firms need to do in order to grow. Your law practice needs to offer unmatched customer experience on and offline, be responsive to changes in the industry, and have the skills to outpace the competition. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is creating a law firm growth strategy that gets results.

To accomplish this, you will need to start with a competitive analysis. This process involves examining your closest competitors to see how those law firms are engaging with customers on attorney social media profiles, what services your competitors offer, and where they are earning the most approval.

Your Law Firm Strategy Will Show Long-Term Results

It’s never a good idea to grow without direction. If you attempt to launch a law firm growth strategy without a clear direction, you won’t achieve good long-term outcomes. To avoid this pitfall, you will need to engage in thoughtful law firm strategic planning. 

The best law firm growth strategies will begin with a clear reason why. If you can’t articulate why it’s time for your law firm to grow, then maybe it isn’t. What is a good reason to grow your law firm? The reason should be centered around being prepared for new competition and ready to harness opportunities when they come up. Additionally, your reasons should include ensuring that you can always meet your clients’ needs.

If you are ready for your law firm growth strategy to get long-term results, there are three steps you need to take. First, select metrics for success that are attached to your law firm’s revenue to better ensure that your law firm growth strategies can be directly tied to actions that bring in more clients and allow you to execute other actions that reliably earn money. 

Next, invest in your skills and those of the other people in your law practice. Technical skills, project management capabilities, and even personal development prepare you for future challenges.

Finally, be willing to revisit the services that you offer. Is it possible that you are attempting to offer a breadth of services when your law firm should be focused on depth? Keep your clients’ needs in mind as you think about this.

Ultimately, your practice needs to be client-centered. If you are providing the solutions your target audience needs and doing so in a way that is better than your competitors, growth is going to come naturally.

Make sustainability a priority. The process of planning for growth takes a significant amount of time. Implementing a legal firm’s strategic plan takes even longer. Still, you will reap the biggest rewards by focusing on the long game.

Your Law Firm Will Benefit from Its Online Presence

Be aware that if your law firm growth strategy works, you will end up with an online presence that draws in more prospective clients. When this happens, you need to be available with answers to their questions that will push them further down the marketing funnel in hopes they will answer your call to action. However, before any of that can happen, you have to achieve the kind of search rankings that leads to more traffic.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important part of any law firm’s strategy for growth. When you consider that the top-ranked search result has an average click-through rate of more than one in three, you’ll realize that’s much higher than the click-through rate for the legal industry as a whole.

When you want to achieve growth, you will need an SEO strategy that is designed to maximize your online visibility. If you’ve leaned on television or print ads in the past, you should plan on centering your growth strategy on law firm digital marketing. This shift is important to remain competitive. Additionally, you can leverage data analytics to achieve the growth you want if you embrace SEO.

Like the rest of your law firm growth strategy, SEO takes a long-term commitment. Things won’t change overnight. In fact, a good law firm SEO campaign could take months before you experience consistent improvements in search engine rankings. It’s definitely worth the wait when you consider that almost all people in need of legal services use search engines to find them. When people do click on your law firm’s website, they almost always intend to take some action.

Best Business Model

Best business model for lawyers

The business model for a law firm should allow it to generate revenue and serve clients better. However, that setup can look different across law practices, depending on their law firm goals and circumstances. As you refine your business model for your law firm strategic plan, keep these four factors in mind:

How value will be created for clients

  • The resources you will need to generate that value
  • The methods that will be used to secure financing
  • How revenue will be generated

Remember that building a law firm growth strategy may extend beyond acquiring and retaining clients, delivering services, and collecting payments. There are many other processes involved in operating a legal office that is designed for growth, including project management. However, those processes should also have the ultimate goal of delivering value to the client.

S.T.A.R.S. Model for Your Law Firm Growth Strategy

S.T.A.R.S. model for your law firm

The S.T.A.R.S. framework is a growth strategy for law practices. It involves five steps:

  • Start-up
  • Turnaround
  • Accelerated growth
  • Realignment
  • Sustaining success

This approach works very well for law firms because of its flexibility. You can begin at any point in this growth framework. It’s up to you to decide where you are in the growth process, then choose a step that aligns with that.

Once you have done that, you will determine both the challenges and opportunities that your law firm is facing right now. Finally, you can begin to identify the solutions required to achieve growth for your law firm.

Start-Up

There are many decisions to make when your law firm’s strategic plan begins at the start-up phase. You may be launching your first practice or starting a new one. As you work to put everything in place to acquire and serve your clients, you are also considering whether to hire staff right away.

It's important to decide whether you should open a physical location or just operate virtually. Law firms will be experiencing different things at this stage, but here are some common challenges:

  • Attempting to launch a legal practice and create a business plan at the same time
  • Doing everything on your own or with limited help
  • Building both your practice and your brand from the ground up
  • Working with very limited resources

There is no doubt that these challenges can be intimidating. Fortunately, some opportunities will be revealed during this stage of law firm strategic planning.

For one, you are probably more motivated and excited than you have been in a while. In addition to this, you have an opportunity to execute your vision. Nobody else can set boundaries for you. Most importantly, you are able to make the best decisions to set your legal practice up with a great plan for business development.

Turnaround

The turnaround phase in the S.T.A.R.S. model is ideal if you are looking for law firm growth strategies that will allow you to restructure a law practice that is no longer working very well. This approach gives you the opportunity to turn things around. Of course, there will be challenges along the way.

Let’s address the challenges first. These will depend on what led your practice to this stage in the first place. It’s important to be honest about what you are facing so that your law firm strategic planning adequately addresses those issues. This insight is how law firms set themselves up for sustainable growth.

Some of these challenges may seem familiar to you:

  • Time pressure to fix things quickly
  • Accepting cases that aren’t a good fit for your practice
  • Poor morale
  • Lack of proper staffing, which impacts client service
  • Being faced with difficult decisions to create a better future for your practice

One of the key opportunities here is that you are able to see a path forward. You are empowered to make things better. Fortunately, just a little positive change at this stage can really be motivating for small law firms.

Accelerated Growth

What if your law practice is already growing rapidly? That's great, as long as you are able to manage all of these sudden changes. Mastering this management is the purpose of the accelerated growth stage.

Whether this growth comes from strategic planning on your part, or unexpected changes in the legal field, you will have challenges to overcome. Rapid growth can create staffing shortages and stress your existing systems and processes. You will also have opportunities to leverage. The positives are that growth is a morale booster and motivator. Your team may be more willing than ever to work hard to keep the momentum going.

Realignment

Realignment is an ideal stage if your law firm strategic planning shows that significant changes need to be made. This state may come as the result of a change in ownership or an increase in frustration expressed by staff members.

A major event that occurs may also cause a need for a serious shift in the way your legal practice operates. Things don’t need to be disastrous for a realignment to work well. If your firm isn’t meeting business goals on a regular basis, that is enough reason for a realignment. 

One of the most common challenges in this phase is the cultural shift that often comes with making these kinds of major organizational changes. It’s important that partners and others in leadership positions act as examples of accepting and embracing these changes.

Unfortunately, realignment often brings changes in staffing. Such changes often happen when management and staff attorneys are unwilling or unable to accept or adapt to cultural changes. Realignment also creates opportunities for legal professionals to develop plans for success as part of the shifts they are making. These plans should focus on each team member’s goals and strengths.

Sustain Success

Whether you begin at this phase or end up here after completing other phases, all law firms want to sustain their success.

However, before you can successfully navigate this stage, you must be prepared for some challenges. One of these challenges is to ensure that you continue to adopt law firm growth strategies that allow you to achieve long-term growth in the future. It also helps to be vigilant about managing issues that arise before they become serious roadblocks.

Remember that law firms don’t sustain success by being passive. You should still expect change. Ideally, this change will come as you recognize new opportunities to create more growth, improve productivity, and keep your employees engaged.

Setting the Right Strategy for Law Firm Development

Think of How Many Resources You Need

What resources you need for a law firm

Resource planning must be considered in all strategies for law firms. Simply put, you won’t be able to accomplish your growth objectives if you lack the necessary resources or fail to understand exactly what you need to achieve long-term growth.

Software and technologies are an important part of this equation, but there are also human resources to consider. You need people for both the planning and execution of your legal firm’s growth strategy. Some other resources to consider include:

Law Firm Business Plan

Some law firms have the good fortune of gaining and retaining clients quite easily. Even if this is your experience, no law firm strategic planning is complete without a plan to acquire clients. This plan should focus on earning and converting leads.

Business development needs dictate the part of your strategy that outlines your efforts to gain new clients and keep the ones you currently have. Your law firm business plan should include information on advertising, marketing, and sales. Keep reading for additional insight into building a successful business development plan.

Law Firm Budget

A budget will be part of your law firm strategic planning no matter where you are starting. If you are developing a plan to launch a new practice, your financial projections will show that you will be able to make a profit. Additionally, the budget will show operating costs and how some profits may be reinvested to ensure better future growth. When you write a growth strategy for an existing law firm, you still have to articulate a financial justification for the actions and money that are required to sustain the growth you desire.

You can also read our guide to Law Firm Marketing Budget.

Legal Hardware and Software

Law firms that invest in the right technologies are better poised for growth. With the right technology stack, a law practice can automate processes, boost efficiency, and increase accuracy. This setup gives the practice more time to pursue business development opportunities. Ultimately, this creates a serious competitive advantage.

The challenge is that there is simply so much technology out there. One risk is investing in tech that simply doesn’t deliver. That possibility can be avoided by taking careful steps to understand your needs and ensure the tech tools you purchase help to solve your problems.

As you consider what to buy, think about the needs and challenges you have. For example, more law practices than ever need a solution that bundles invoicing, time tracking, and accounting. The same goes for remote case management. A contract management tool with eSignature capability is also helpful.

Is your practice a team environment? If so, collaborative tools allow multiple team members to work together on drafts and other documents. What about devices? People tend to be most productive when they can use a device they prefer. Ensure that your technology makes information and communication accessible across multiple devices.

Ask yourself where reporting and communication are most important. Then, choose tools that automate these things anywhere possible. This approach will allow you to make future growth decisions based on accurate data and foster communication where it is most needed.

The final consideration is integration. Any tool you purchase for your legal practice should interface with existing tools, including Gmail, CRM, Outlook, Slack, or any other software your firm uses.

Hiring Extra Staff for Growth

Does your legal practice lack staff or other resources? It can be difficult to determine this condition without a careful review of your current state.

There are several tools and methodologies for doing this. However, a SWOT analysis is often the most effective. This process involves identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis will help you determine where your organization is facing deficits. Next, revisit the goals you have set for your practice. Can you achieve them with the human resources you have available now? If not, it’s probably time to grow your staff.

When your goal is to create growth, it’s a great time to expand and tap into your networks. This approach is a great way to connect with lawyers who are interested in working with a growing legal firm. It's also a great way to find new clients.

Leverage the Power of Digital Marketing and Branding

It isn’t enough to have a business. You need a brand. A brand is what makes your firm memorable and causes your target clients to associate your practice with certain values and traits. As you work to build your brand, it’s important to be absolutely consistent.

Visual elements like your law firm logo are a key part of your brand. When they are consistent, that consistency increases recognition. Messaging is also important. Perhaps you want to be known for a practice that passionately defends people who are accused of crimes. You need to communicate that positioning at every turn.

Branding and digital marketing go hand in hand. Marketing is one of the tools you use to communicate your brand. When you implement the right marketing strategy, your brand gets in front of your target audience.

Content Marketing

Seven types of content

Content marketing involves creating content that is designed to be relevant to prospective and existing clients at different stages of the customer journey. That content is strategically published and promoted to ensure it has the most impact. Marketing content includes social media posts, articles, attorney blogs, surveys, infographics, and more.

When done correctly, law firm content marketing can help you increase your reputation for thought leadership as an attorney. You will also develop more recognition and visibility. As this happens, people are more likely to click on your content when they are searching for legal information or assistance. You can help this process by organically inserting keywords in your attorney web content, blog posts, and other content. This approach will improve your organic search rankings by optimizing your pages for those keywords.

A law firm’s authority is important to its efforts to attract and retain clients. When you consistently post relevant, trustworthy legal information, you establish your expertise in your practice area. Additionally, authority content is easy to share. This shareability helps you expand your reach in ways that other methods can’t.

Social Media

Most of your target audience probably has some sort of social media presence. That doesn’t mean you should start spending money on sponsored posts or hire an influencer. Instead, take time to do some research. Learn about your audience’s demographic information and where its members are active on social media.

Next, focus on your competitors. What are they doing to reach people on socials? What is working for them, and what isn’t? Wait until you have that information to start creating social media accounts and building up your presence. You want to reach the right audience and get the best possible response when you do,

Your social media profiles are going to be very important. Make sure they are kept up to date with correct contact information, website links, and anything else a potential client might need to have. Because many legal issues are pretty personal in nature, many people will want a way to contact you that doesn’t involve social media.

Social media isn’t just a platform for you to promote your legal practice or share content. It’s also an important place to engage with your followers. Ask satisfied clients to leave positive reviews on your law firm's Facebook page. This feedback will help you attract more followers and boost your attorney reputation.

Create a High-Performing Website

Audiences are more digitally savvy than ever. They have high expectations when it comes to their online experiences. The website you build for your law practice must meet or exceed these expectations.

Often, your website is the first point of contact between your legal business and a prospective client. If that first touchpoint is a website that is outdated, disorganized, and slow, there’s a chance that many clients will stop engaging with you right there. That’s not just lost business — it’s an increased bounce rate that also impacts your search engine performance. Invest in good website design from a professional. Place only high-quality images on your website, and ensure they are optimized.

Finally, make it easy for visitors to find your services and other information. Ease of navigation has a greater influence on conversions than many attorneys realize.

Find New Practice Areas

Finding new areas of law to explore is a very effective way to grow your law firm. It’s also very challenging and may not be something every law firm can accomplish.

You need to have the right in-house expertise to offer more practice areas, or you need to be able to obtain that expertise. This development won’t simply happen without serious planning and most likely, a financial investment. If you decide to pursue this tactic, start with a gap analysis. Where are you lacking the resources to be able to offer new services? Also, consider what your clients have been requesting.

For example, are you consistently asked if you offer a specific type of legal service? Fortunately, if you are able to add new services, this is a good sign that your practice is doing well and that your strategies for growth are successful.

Billable Hours

Growing your attorney billable hours is one of the most important parts of your growth strategy. Whether you can tackle new projects for existing clients or expand your services, increasing your billable hours can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Keep in mind that the various niches pay differently for the effort put in. Some forms of law are far more remunerative than others.

You might conclude that you need to get to $400 a billable hour to reach your goal.

How do you do that?

You look at those niches that will get you the most revenue per hour invested.

That’s how you have to think when you’re a CEO. What is the best and highest use of each hour?

This may not come naturally. As an attorney, you’re probably used to thinking about your cases and your interest in a practice area and not necessarily the cost of delivering the service and how it impacts the bottom line.

It’s imperative that you get accustomed to being a CEO, not a lawyer, to build a business of law (hard and highly rewarding) rather than a practice of law (easy, but more of a job than business ownership).

Think of Outsourcing Legal Work

There may be circumstances where your practice needs professional assistance, but hiring a new employee is just not the best approach. When this happens, legal work outsourcing is an ideal option.

This approach will allow you to contract assistance with tasks that may be tedious, time-consuming, or simply not within your core area of expertise. The individual or agency that you work with will act as an extension of your practice. They will allow you to decrease the time you spend working on tasks that aren’t productive and spend more time on high-value tasks.

When you outsource, your team members are better able to work to their talents. This setup increases efficiency and generates leads to positive business development outcomes.

Maintain Good Relationships with Your Clients

Good relationships building

The concept of a client-centered approach to practicing law isn’t new. Many lawyers have adopted this approach and had amazing results.

Client-centered means that you shift your priorities and perspective to center on what your prospective clients are experiencing. For example, you might consider what it’s like to look for and hire an attorney as someone who is unfamiliar with the legal system and in the midst of a stressful situation.

Then, you would conceive ways to offer them services that would meet their needs while making the process as easy as possible. At the same time, you would also retain a focus on ensuring the methods you adopt work for your firm and allow you to achieve your business goals.

Try the following tips for a client-friendly approach:

  • Educate your clients about the legal process. Let them know how things will unfold during their case.
  • Show empathy. Take time to listen to your clients. Understand where they may be fearful or anxious. Communicate information to help provide reassurance and create a sense of trust between yourself and your clients.
  • Make all terms clear and unambiguous. Explain your billing, client responsibilities, hours, terms, and expectations using clear language.
  • Speak plainly and seek to make complicated issues easier to understand. You want your clients to understand the law as it applies to their problems and why you are making the choices you are in serving them.

A successful attorney is someone who can help clients resolve legal matters quickly and affordably. When you adopt a client-centered approach, you will be able to do this even better. In addition, this approach fosters trust and helps you build better relationships with your clients. If you execute it well, your client-centered approach should also help you earn recommendations and referrals.

Measuring Your Results

Many attorneys struggle to correctly calculate the return they receive when they invest in various business development activities. Thus, it’s difficult for them to determine whether they are getting good results in the first place. If they are, they may not be able to align those positive returns with a specific activity.

Lawyers must adopt methods for measuring return on investment (ROI) that use money as a metric. This setup makes it much clearer as you try to discern what is paying off and what is not. When you can connect business development actions with revenue, you will be able to focus on the efforts that are paying off and back away from the ones that are not.

When you can track your ROI figures as accurately as possible, you will be able to increase your returns even further. Your firm will be at a great advantage when compared to law offices that do not track these numbers. That’s key to your business development success.

Use this approach to calculate ROI:

  1. Begin by adding the total investment (expense = cash outlay + cost to implement)
  2. Determine net savings (savings = savings - expense)
  3. Get your ROI (ROI = savings / investment)

This calculation can be applied to any action and over any period of time.

When Can You Outsource Law Firm Strategy?

The process of creating strategies for law offices is time-consuming and intense. It’s also a necessary part of being able to make business decisions that allow you to grow your practice. If you operate a solo practice or have a small office, you may not be able to develop strategy while also serving your existing clients.

You may also feel as though you are struggling with the process if you don’t have some expert guidance. If this is the case, you may want to do what dozens of other lawyers have done and contract the services of an expert specializing in strategy development for people in the legal profession.

Not Easy — but Better than the Alternative

Creating a growth strategy for your business is difficult. It’s complicated and time-consuming. However, the alternative is to stagnate while your competitors plan for and achieve their growth goals. Fortunately, the approach you take can make this process easier and more effective. Try some of these tips:

  • Get buy-in from stakeholders before you commit your time and energy
  • Make a time commitment and communicate that this must be a priority
  • Choose the tools you need, then run a SWOT analysis to get your current state
  • Split your business into key areas so you can decide which activities to pursue
  • Keep your efforts centered around those key business areas
  • Know how you are going to measure results
  • Regularly review and revise your plan, so it continues to meet your needs

Ideally, this blog gives you some insights and resources you can use to create a growth strategy that includes a strong plan and the flexibility to achieve the goals you have set for your practice.

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    Sasha serves as Managing Partner for Grow Law Firm, a Chicago-based digital marketing agency focused solely on specialized growth strategies for attorneys and their practices.

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