Practicing law is what small law firm lawyers do well. Yet often they are reluctant business owners; few of them went to law school intending to run their own small business.

Increasingly, leaders of small law firms are realizing that they are, in fact, business owners, and that they need to improve their business management skillset. To help, Thomson Reuters developed a series about strategic planning to walk small law firms through the process of growing their business acumen, improving their business planning skills, and identifying and improving core competencies that are essential to securing their practice’s future.

The first step towards building a future is making a plan for that future. A solid business plan is central to the overall health of a firm and to sustained business growth.

This approach involves three categories of core competencies:

  1. Strategic management of firm resources, both capital and human;
  2. Effective client relationship management; and
  3. Business development with a clear return-on-investment (ROI).

It starts with identifying goals and setting goals in phases: What do I need to accomplish in the next 90 days? By the end of the 12 months? Three years out?

Within each phase, it’s crucial to allocate resources toward accomplishing each goal by asking what it will take to achieve it. What will it cost? What are the dependencies? That is, what do we have to achieve first for our next goal to be successful?

When looking three years into the future and beyond, examine the megatrends in the legal industry. Where is the law going? What does the regulatory environment look like? And how will this impact what my practice might look like in years to come?

Setting realistic and attainable goals is key. Establish goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Avoid simply shoring up things you think you already do well, and don’t be afraid to address weaknesses.

Long-term business stability requires the ability to manage change and competition. You need to have a plan to effectively run a business, deal with change and confront competition.

For more on critical skills for leaders of small law firms, see Legal Executive Institute’s series on strategic planning.