No business, including a business of law, should begin without a plan. A plan is critical to give the business direction and keep it on track in terms of goals and finances.
So, you’ve decided to create a plan. Now what? Now you need to plan for the planning. In other words, you need to decide on some logistics for your planning meeting.
Who should be involved? In small firms with more than one attorney, all attorneys, whether partner or associates, should be invited to participate in planning. In a solo practice, the answer to “who plans” is easy: you are the planner, although you might want to consider including a spouse or significant other, an accountant and/or banker, a trusted peer who is also a successful solo practitioner, and/or a business coach.
Opinions are split on whether to include nonattorney staff in the planning process. Staff have a good idea of the practical, day-to-day activities of the office; and by including them, it shows that you value their contributions. On the other hand, including staff means that they will have access to confidential information or sensitive financial data. (Note: One solution is to convert all of the sensitive facts to percentages or averages.)
While the decision to include staff will vary, you should plan for a facilitator and a reporter in all cases.
A facilitator encourages and helps with the flow of communications. Consequently, the facilitator should not be the strongest partner or the most dominant person in the firm. He or she might impose his opinions on the rest of the group. Consider hiring an outside facilitator — someone who is trained to efficiently direct the meeting and to remain neutral in the decision-making process. Also, because you must pay the outside person, the planners will take the process more seriously.
A reporter documents all of the discussions so that even apparently off-the-wall ideas don’t get lost. The reporter also documents the group’s decisions so that no one forgets what was accomplished. Upon the meeting’s conclusion, the reporter also summarizes the decisions and action items into a plan for follow-up.
Where and when
A planning meeting requires complete focus; a weekend retreat or a small series of off-site meetings is best for small firms because you can get away from the daily interruptions of the office (in fact, it sometimes helps to get as far away as possible), and you can see your business in a different perspective when you are away from it.
If you cannot go away on a retreat-type weekend, then you can hold your planning meeting in a conference room (inside or outside of your own building) — but set a strict policy that no telephone calls, texting, or office interruptions are allowed during meeting time.
The purpose of the meeting will be to come to a consensus that includes everyone’s input — no single person or group of people should dominate.
Strong partners may need to actively step back to allow others the chance to make contributions. The whole group should understand and practice a nonjudgmental policy; putdowns and ridicule must be avoided if open communication is to be encouraged.
Consider the confidentiality of the information that will be given to the planners. Full disclosure is the best way to accurately discuss the direction of the firm.
You’ve decided to do it — you’ve decided to create a business plan. That is wonderful news. Congratulations!