The Bar News

Best Practice Tips: The Focused Law Firm

Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am part of a three-member management committee. We have a 25-attorney firm located in the greater Washington D.C. area. We specialize in governmental law. We are feeling that our committee and the firm spend a lot of time in meetings discussing management problems and strategies to no avail. Not much changes or gets implemented. I welcome your comments.

A. One of the major problems facing law firms is focus. Research indicates that three of the biggest challenges facing professionals today are time pressures, financial pressures, and the struggle to maintain a healthy balance between work and home. Billable time, non-billable time or the firm’s investment time, and personal time must be well managed, targeted, and focused. Your time must be managed as well.

Today well-focused specialists are winning the marketplace wars. Trying to be all things to all people is not a good strategy. Such full-service strategies only lead to lack of identity and reputation. For most small firms, it is not feasible to specialize in more than two or three core practice areas.

Based upon our experience from client engagements, I have concluded that lack of focus and accountability are major problems law firms face. Often there are too many ideas, alternatives, and options. The result is that no action is taken or actions are adopted that fail to distinguish firms from their competitors and provide them with a sustained competitive advantage. Ideas, recommendations, and suggestions are of no value unless implemented.

Don’t hide behind strategy and planning. Attorneys love to postpone implementation. Find ways to focus the firm and foster accountability from all.

  • Keep strategy and planning simple.
  • Undertake a few projects at a time that can be realistically accomplished.
  • Delegate tasks across the firm.
  • Build upon initial successes and move to more complex strategies, which will require more difficult degrees of change.
  • Adopt management structures that enable the firm to act decisively and quickly. Replace structures that do not support such a culture.

Go For Bottom-Line Results

Attorneys respect facts. The quicker your committee can implement solutions that have a positive financial impact on the bottom line, the quicker the committee will gain credibility and respect from the other partners.

Use the Consulting Process

Treat the problem or issues like a legal engagement or project. Conduct appropriate research and back up ideas and recommendations with hard data. Adequately prepare and rehearse presentations. Prepare like attorneys prepare a case for trial. The management committee’s credibility will only be enhanced if its ideas are accepted and implemented with positive results.

Use of Triads – Present Three Alternatives or Options

Time after time, management committees have spent endless hours studying and researching a problem, brainstorming solutions, and preparing and presenting their recommendations to partners, only to have their report tabled and they are asked to present additional alternatives. What happened? The management committee failed to present three options or alternatives. The partners had no basis of comparison.

Experience and research show that the success rates improve dramatically when three options or alternatives are presented. The triad strengthens thinking abilities enormously and empowers people to make choices. It also trains the mind to see the relationships between alternatives and options. Management consultants never present just one alternative or option.

Management committees that use triads and present three alternatives or options will be more successful in selling their ideas to their partners.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, ( is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at

Posted on October 17, 2018 by Rhys Saunders
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