The new year is a great time to create or update a business plan for your law practice. Whether you are a recent graduate, a seasoned veteran, or just new to private practice, it is never too late to set goals and identify strategies to reach those goals.
You might think you don’t have time to write a lengthy business plan. You might also wonder, would your practice even benefit from the planning process? The answer is a definite yes!
THE CASE FOR A BUSINESS PLAN
A business plan is a tool to help you make important decisions about your practice. Having a plan can prevent you from making hasty decisions in the moment, which can help you avoid losing sight of your goals. For example, a plan for case screening resolves questions of when to say no (and when to say yes) to particular cases or clients so your caseload always reflects the goals for your practice. Likewise, a plan for marketing determines which methods of advertising to use to reach your target market, and helps you spend your marketing budget wisely.
YOUR PLAN IS UNIQUE – LIKE YOU
Lawyers sometimes resist business planning because they believe business plans are too formal. Your business plan does not have to be stiff or stuffy. In fact, it should be the opposite. Your business plan should reflect your values, your personality, your skills, and your interests. It should be unique to you, explain how you want to serve your clients, and include what you find rewarding about the practice of law. (If you don’t find the practice of law rewarding, you definitely need a business plan!)
WRITE IT DOWN, MAKE IT HAPPEN
Whether your plan is long or short (in terms of length or goals), put your plan in writing. Writing down your goals and strategies keeps you focused, and helps you make decisions that align with your goals. You will waste less time choosing which cases to take or which educational or networking opportunities to pursue. Your decision tool – your business plan – already shows the way. All you need to do is follow the course of action that keeps you moving toward your goals. Remember, the more closely your work aligns with your goals, the more likely you are to feel satisfied, and greater professional satisfaction can help you provide better service to your clients and avoid malpractice errors.
THAT WHICH IS MEASURED IMPROVES
Identifying goals and strategies and putting those to paper is only part of business planning. You also need to regularly return to your business plan, review your goals, and measure your progress. It is important to revise your strategies if your approach is not moving you closer to your goals. In addition, over time you may change your goals and need to develop new strategies to achieve those new objectives. Of course, in time you will also surpass existing goals and need to identify new aspirations to reach for. This review, measurement, and revision process will help your business plan become a living document, with practical, manageable steps to make decisions and take actions that build a fulfilling practice.
No matter how large or small, your practice needs a business plan. The new year is the perfect time to create one or to review the plan you already have. If you want to learn more about business planning, or you need help with where to start, visit the practice management section of our website, and look for Forms. The Financial Management category includes several practice aids to help get you started, including the Law Office Business Plan Worksheet, as well as several cash flow worksheets and a worksheet to draft your start-up budget if you are new to practice.
Set your goals, aim high, and contact a Practice Management Advisor if you need support.