Planning: The Key to Success (and Increased Profits)
by Barbara Lewis
(County Bar Update, February 1999, Vol. 19, No. 2)


Planning: The Key to Success
(and Increased Profits)

By Barbara Lewis, MBA, Law Office Management Section Executive Committee. Lewis is a partner with Centurion Consulting Group, which provides strategic, business and marketing plans for law firms. She can be reached at or The opinions expressed are her own.

As we usher in 1999, now is the time to assess the past year, its successes and failures, and plan for the new year. Yet planning is not a high priority with law firms. In a survey conducted by Centurion Consulting Group, only 16 percent of respondents said that they had written marketing plans, and a mere 8 percent had business plans. While most industries include planning as an integral part of their business, law firms have been reluctant to adopt this important business tool.

There are three types of plans: strategic plans, business plans andmarketing plans(although business plans usually include two sections -- one is on operations and the other on marketing).

Typically, law firms begin the planning process by developing a marketing plan and then, at some future time, give thought to a business plan. Rarely is a strategic plan considered, although it is by far the most important of the three plans and should be completed first.

The strategic planis the foundation from which the business plan and its marketing component are developed. If you write the marketing portion first, you may find that the goals are not aligned with the strategic plan.

The strategic plan is oftentimes developed through a facilitation process where the mission (Where are we today?), vision (Where do we want to be in three years?), drivers (strengths), restrainers (weaknesses), business opportunities, and threats are discussed.

From this "big picture" blue print, the business planis developed. Business plans come in three flavors:

  • the summary business plan, which is about 10-15 pages in length and generally is for the purpose of low-end financing;
  • the full business plan, which is about 30-50 pages and is for high-end financing or partner evaluation; and
  • the operational business plan, which can be in excess of 100 pages in length.

While the first two plans are usually external documents, the third is an internal document that guides the firm's growth and may be part of an annual planning process.

The old adage -- If You Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail -- is a terse reminder of the value of planning. In dollar terms, research indicates that a marketing plan alone can increase partner profits by 147 percent. Imagine how successful you could be with a comprehensive planning process this year.

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