October 23, 2012

Internal Effectiveness Is Not Strategy

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April/May 2006 Issue | Volume 32 Number 3 | Page 11
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Law Firm Strategy

Internal Effectiveness Is Not Strategy

By Patrick J. McKenna

There is a fundamental distinction between developing strategy and focusing on internal effectiveness. Yet among law firms that have a formal strategic plan, the majority of those plans are predominantly focused on internal issues.

Typically, “the strategy” seems to be either fixing problems or emulating best practices. We are trained to resolve the issue, put out the fire, correct the underperformance and generally fix the problem—but that is all time spent in looking backward rather than focusing on the future, exploiting opportunities and building on strengths. Meanwhile, the more benchmarking you do and the more you seek to copy some other firm, the more indistinguishable you become from your competitors. Emulating what’s good in others is admirable, but it’s not a winning strategy.

Shatter the mold. Your firm can outperform rivals only if you can establish a difference that clients actually value. Strategy is about making choices: Sorry, but you can’t be all things to all people. Strategy is about deliberately choosing to be different. When you have a really great strategy, your people are fired up: “We’re not just another law firm. We’re claiming a territory in which we can be unique and contribute something important to the profession.”

If all you are trying to do is essentially the same thing as competing firms, it is unlikely that you will be very successful. Malcolm McLaren, manager of the notorious rock group the Sex Pistols, once said, “There are two ways to lead your life: karaoke (copying) or authenticity.” Copy or break the mold. That’s the choice we face every day.