September 01, 2019

Optimizing the Law Firm Ecosystem

Keeping tabs on the business drivers that can move your firm ahead.

Timothy B. Corcoran

Managing a business can be a complicated affair. There are numerous financial and operational levers to push and pull, and buttons to press, each in turn accelerating or decelerating some aspect of the business. There are few black-and-white certainties, except perhaps for a handful of fairly obvious maxims: “Nothing happens until we make a sale,” say, or “The customer isn’t the enemy,” or “If we never turn a profit, we’re running a hobby, not a business.” Otherwise, management science is awash in uncertainties. Which button should I press? For how long? What if I move this lever up and move this other lever down? Which should I move first? Will I improve my outcomes if I prioritize these objectives and dial back our efforts elsewhere?

How a manager prioritizes and acts on the available business drivers is a function of the organization’s strategy, which in turn is a function of its resources and capabilities and how well these are poised to address the available market opportunities. Since these are all perpetually moving targets, it should come as no surprise that prioritizing and reprioritizing these variables is a challenging, stimulating, frustrating and time-consuming exercise. And yet many law firm executive committee members and practice group leaders maintain full-time, or nearly full-time, law practices. So how do they do it? How do they maintain their focus on the numerous variables for driving business performance while practicing law as their day job? The simple answer is they don’t. They try. They mean well. They certainly work tremendously hard for what is often a thankless (and incentiveless) role. But they’re often not keeping an eye on all the variables necessary to effectively manage the business.

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