11. October 2018

Law firm management – in the beginning is a vision!

“People who have visions should go and see a doctor!” This quotation is attributed to the former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who thus responded to Willy Brandt’s postulation that politics in the Federal Republic of Germany would have to develop a vision for the country. Many lawyers appear to agree with Schmidt. No fewer than 50% of the US law firms surveyed by Altman Weil in 2018 are convinced that they do not have to differentiate themselves from other law firms in order to be successful.

What is this all about? If you work on a strategy, you will soon find out that at the very beginning of this work, there has to be an idea as to where you want to go. What ideal should guide me when I develop a strategy for my law firm? Thus the point is to define, together with the partners, a kind of lodestar for the purpose of positioning, which should provide orientation and act as an incentive at the same time.

The vision should be ambitious, but not unattainable. It may describe a long-term objective, but must be sufficiently specific to be able to offer practical guidance in important decision-making processes of law firm management. And it should provide a value-based, conceptional frame for the development of the strategy.

Would you like specific examples? Just have a look at the website of big, internationally operating business law firms! In a nutshell, they often say things like: “We provide demanding, internationally operating corporate clients with legal advice of the highest quality with regard to complex issues.” Of course, this is all very well, but not particularly distinctive. In comparison, the vision of a small, still young Swiss law firm in the Canton of Zug sounds rather more exciting. It says: “More business – true partnership!” The law firm has developed a set of values and services around this nucleus which should fill clients with enthusiasm. The partners have set themselves the target of being that law firm in their clients’ perception which stands out in its market through a pronounced commitment to (economic) client benefit, to personal attention at partner level and to a close dovetailing of their service provision processes with those of their clients. This may sound banal, but – hand on heart, dear colleagues – it is definitely not!

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Be daring when you develop a vision for your law firm! What is important for me? What should my law firm’s DNA be? Do I want to be the local divorce law firm which besides legal consultation also provides support for people with psychological or social problems? Do I want to be the law firm in my region which thanks to outstanding technology competence becomes the (legal consultation) partner of choice for start-ups? Do I want to be the globally operating law firm which has such a convincing cooperation culture that it will attract all the best talents from all social strata and thus become a global player with the highest degree of diversity? Or do I want to become the law firm which excels like no other in the consultation of charitable foundations?

And another tip: if a vision is to fulfil its function as a lodestar for strategy development and daily operative work, it must be pithy and memorable. I recommend that you should formulate your vision in a one-liner short enough to fit on a luggage tag! How you can manage the leap from the vision to a strategy will be discussed in my next article. Until then!


This article is part of the series «Law firm management». Read more here:

Law firm management – What do law firms need a strategy for, and how proficient a swimmer are you?


Picture by Sergey Nazarov on iStock


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About the author
Prof. Dr. Leo Staub Academic Director of the Executive School of Management, Technology & Law at the University of St.Gallen until May 2020 and Professor Emeritus of Private and Business Law at the University of St. Gallen.