A 4-Step Approach to Create and Implement a Strategic Plan for Your Firm

by Ashley Kappel on December 12, 2022

A 4-Step Approach to Create and Implement a Strategic Plan for Your Firm

By Ashley Kappel

A small firm or solo practitioner without a strategic plan is analogous to driving somewhere new without a destination or a GPS.

Yet many firm leaders fail to create a strategic plan and revisit it often. The purpose of strategic planning is to clarify what matters most for your firm’s success.

Step 1: Align on your core values.

  • Core values are what you and your firm believe in and stand for. They are the foundational principles to assist you in evaluating what is important and what is not.
  • In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish posits that authentic core values are vital to an organization’s long-term growth. Your core values will also attract employees who are aligned with you and who will prosper if they feel a part of something bigger than simply working for an ordinary law firm.
  • A good rule of thumb is to limit your core values to five.
  • A solo practitioner could identify five top values by going through this card sorting  online exercise.
  • For a firm with more than multiple partners, each person on the executive team can identify three people in your firm who epitomize your core values. Then list the qualities that characterize those people on a board. From there, work to refine the values that your firm embodies. The process will take some time if done correctly.

Step 2: Agree  on your core purpose.

  • According to Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, your core purpose or why expresses the value you offer the world – not merely the service you’re providing. It should be something idealistic and inspiring to you and your employees for why your firm exists.
  • An exercise that helps illuminate your core purpose is called the five whys.
    • Begin with a short statement about your work and ask why that is significant to hone in on your core purpose.
    • For example, you might start with we are a family law firm. Why is that significant?
    • We help people going through a divorce. Why is that significant?
    • We help individuals who are going through an emotional time in their lives and don’t know how to navigate the court system. Why is that significant?
    • We help distressed individuals move through the financial and emotional turbulence involved with domestic relations.
  • Moving through the five whys exercise helps your firm’s core purpose become clearer and more inspirational.


Step 3: Identify an unattainable goal describing where you want your firm to be in a decade.

  • In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras researched the common practices of businesses that have been around for decades pivotal to their success. Each company had set unattainable long-range goals.
  • The key to establishing an effective long-term goal is making it measurable and explicit. In Traction, Gino Wickman suggests surveying the leadership team about what the revenue of the organization could be in ten years. Wickman indicates that alignment on the goal will occur once everyone in the firm is excited and energized whenever it is stated.


Step 4: Establish three priorities for the next 1-3 years aligned to the ten-year goal.

  • Alignment on your top three priorities for some agreed upon period of time will help prepare your firm to implement strategies to make those priorities happen.
  • Three is a good number because too many priorities means it will be difficult to achieve them.
  • Start by identifying the revenue you want your firm to target for the 1-3 year period.
  • Then use the following phased approach to identify your firm’s priorities to achieve that target. If you’re a solo practitioner, this will be a much simpler process.
  • Phase 1: Think broadly and develop a list of several potential priorities.
    • Analyze trends and how to improve your firm in three categories – clients, services, and competitors. Brainstorm potential priorities.
    • Do a SWOT analysis to assess the firm’s strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities to identify additional potential priorities.
    • Identify a champion for each possible priority to come prepared to explain why this should be a top priority at the next meeting.
  • Phase 2: Narrow the list to three priorities.
    • Each champion will explain why their priority should be a top three priority.
    • Next, each participant should state which three priorities they like best and why and then respond with their final three after everyone has presented.
    • Take the pulse of the group to see which priorities rise to the top and discuss and deliberate until only three priorities remain.
  • Phase 3: Write down the plan and implement it through monthly and quarterly tracking.
    • Identify measurable goals and objectives for each priority. Then, create a written action plan specifying who is accountable, a timeline, and how the goal will be evaluated on a monthly or quarterly basis.
    • For example, if your priority is to bring in 75 new clients over the next year and hit $1.5M in revenue with an average case or transaction value of $20,000 each, you would need to bring in about six or seven new clients per month. If you have three partners, each one would be responsible for bringing in two or three new clients each month.
    • Another objective might be to improve your client experience so that your volume of referrals increases to hit your revenue goal. You could identify one person in your firm to handle all client intakes to create a more uniform client experience. Their priority in Q1 might be to standardize and document the intake and onboarding process. In Q2, you might implement a client survey for all existing and past clients to improve your delivery experience. In Q3, you could implement changes to how you approach your clients based on the survey results. And in Q4, you might start a client advocacy program by collecting testimonials and writing up case studies.

It is important to revisit the strategic plan each month and make sure you’re on track to meeting your goals and priorities. The plan should evolve over time and not sit on a shelf.

Generally, it is helpful to have a neutral third party coach or consultant facilitate the strategic planning and implementation process for your firm. A trained coach or consultant can make the difference in helping this become a reality that transforms how you manage your firm as a business.

Bio for Ashley Kappel: Ashley is the founder of and a business coach and part-time COO for small firms at Legal Upgrade. As an attorney and certified executive coach from the Center for Executive Coaching with experience working on the business and client side of a tech startup, she is uniquely equipped to support small firm leaders with business operations and client relations.  She knows firsthand what it’s like to be in your shoes, having practiced law for nearly a decade. She founded and managed a successful and innovative law firm after working in big law for many years. Additionally, Ashley is skilled in people management, culture building, and strategic planning after leading a team for five years as a nonprofit director and serving as an officer and board member of numerous nonprofit and government boards over the past 15 years, including the Chaffee Housing Authority, Colorado Ivy Women, Raise the Future, Roots Elementary, CREW Denver, and Wish for Wheels.​​​ Ashley holds a law degree from the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law, two masters degrees in education policy and leadership, and a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University.



Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post: