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 Table of Contents | Features | Frontlines | Technology | Business

April/May 2009 Issue | Volume 35 Number 3 | Page 47



A lot has been written about Jim Collins’s seminal book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. But one law firm— Savannah, Georgia’s midsize Hunter Maclean Exley & Dunn—turned the words into actions by using the book as the foundation for a unique approach to strategic planning. John Tatum, the firm’s managing partner, was part of a group of eight managing partners from around the United States who met periodically over the course of three years to discuss the principles set forth in the book, and how to apply those principles to law firms.

Inspired by this, as Hunter Maclean began to work on its strategic plan, the members of the firm’s planning committee each read the book as well. And all lawyers in the firm were encouraged to read the book, too. Here’s what grew out of that.

The firm’s stated strategic intent is now to “Go from Good to Great, Serving Clients of Choice.” To articulate what this means in real-world terms, the firm also devised the following definitions:

“Go” conveys motion/activity and forward direction;

“from Good” recognizes our market leadership locally and our generally effective and profitable performance in recent years;

“to Great” states the goal of greatness as defined in Good to Great and affirms our commitment to operate in accordance with its principles;

“Serving” recognizes that our clients are our business and affirms our commitment to relentless and superior client service;

“Clients of Choice” conveys that we will be strategic and selective in our client intake and business development efforts. We will determine what clients we will accept, nurture and keep and be rigorous about not serving those we should not or choose not to.

The firm then went on to develop six specific guiding initiatives that align with achieving the vision—and since this plan was initiated, the firm has made significant progress toward the goals. Initiatives arising from the planning process included:

An innovative training initiative focused on key staff members, part of which included certification in use of the firm’s software programs.

Rigorous adherence to the Good to Great principle of “first who … then what,” which involves striving to have the right people in the firm, dealing rigorously (but not ruthlessly) with those who shouldn’t be there, and giving careful consideration to putting people in the right roles.

Pursuing a culture of discipline in implementing initiatives. Firm leaders say that the plan gave them the tools to do what they needed to do in this regard.

Improving communications, which the firm reports has happened for a number of reasons—but sharing the same vocabulary has been particularly helpful. “We are more candid in many ways,” they say.

Being willing to deal with—and not shy away from—brutal facts as they arise.

Focusing on leadership, especially at practice group levels. The firm reports this has resulted in much more efficient, high-level service delivery.

What can your firm learn from this? The principles in Good to Great are potentially transformational if applied rigorously. Hunter Maclean was transformed by a shared vision of the future, a new way of thinking about its leaders, lawyers and staff, and a unifying vocabulary of discipline and change.

About the Author

Thomas S. Clay , is a principal of Altman Weil, Inc., with expertise in strategic planning, management, and mergers and acquisitions. He serves on the College of Law Practice Management’s Futures Committee and as a judge for its InnovAction Awards.