Functional Business Structure for Legal Firms

What I usually see in legal firms is a very dysfunctional information flow and decision-making structure.  I see a lot unproductive discussion, lack of decision making and minimal if any implementation.  If you want to get a different outcome, you need to do something differently.  What this means is:

  1. Business decisions need to be made in a timely way and then implemented
  2. If you want to change an outcome, you have to change the behaviours of the business to achieve that different outcome.  To change a behaviour, you must change the business structure that drives that behaviour.  This also means that you need to change your thinking.  Ultimately what we think drives our feelings, which then in turns drives our behaviours.  So, the structural changes that must be made are:
    1. At the business level:
      1. Decision making
      2. Accountability
      3. Reporting
    1. At the personal level
      1. What we think and how we think

To create change in your law firm, you must change the structure around how decisions are made, and the structure around how decisions are implemented.  No change in structure and no implementation means no changed behaviours and the same outcomes.  Remember, Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result (READ MORE: The Revenue Revolution for Law Firms – Hope is not a strategy).  To develop a culture of implementation and outcomes, you need to make sure that the decision-making structure and implementation of these decisions is organised and structured itself for success in implementation.  This means discipline: disciplined thoughts, disciplined decisions, disciplined actions produce disciplined outcomes.  Discipline at the individual, department, management and strategic levels of the business.

As a framework to drive changed outcomes, you need to create a FLOW in the business of all the moving parts so that they come together to achieve the required outcomes.  This generally starts at the top of any law firm.  The higher the level of clarity, and the decisiveness of action planning and implementation, the quicker and easier it is to produce different outcomes.  To achieve results, most people require a structure to work within.  This structure needs to be clear around expectations and have boundaries.  A business that lacks structure is a dysfunctional organisation, and discussion is a talk-fest which distracts people from doing their core jobs. Structure brings order to chaos.

To reduce the NOISE in a law firm (aka talk-fest and inaction), you need to focus on action not on discussion.  Everyone has a job to do to make sure the moving parts come together to achieve the outcome required.  If someone is given responsibility to co-ordinate a function of the business, they should be also given the responsibility to make business decisions autonomously, within guidelines.  These guidelines are basically governed by the law firms agreed strategic actions to implement and the law firms core values.  Work out the plan, and delegate implementation to the right person.

The individual roles in an action focussed organisational structure are:

A culture of responsibility and accountability at every level is required for success.  This doesn’t mean “ruling with an iron fist”, it means disciplined people taking disciplined actions and focussing primarily on the responsibilities and duties at hand.  To achieve this, a law firm needs to create a FLOW around the accountability and actions, understanding and holding true the roles and responsibilities of each of the roles above in the functional structure.  This is achieved by a series of structured meetings with specific agendas (nothing else is to be addressed at these meetings other than the agenda items)


CEO/Functional Co-ordinators

Functional Co-ordinators

Department co-ordinators

This is the structure that I have found gets the FLOW going in the law firm.  The key is to focus weekly and daily at the department level on day-to-day operational outcomes and to work weekly and monthly on achieving strategic outcomes.  If the entire team is aligned to how the business operates in terms of co-ordination of action implementation and decision making, the key people can just get on with doing what they need to be doing.

In addition, if the MD/CEO is seen as the place where every decision needs to be made, then the Functional Co-ordinators will be toothless tigers, that’s why decision making needs to be delegated.  In saying this, it’s also critically important that people refrain from sticking their noses in and having a say.  If you want someone to be responsible for their actions and outcomes, you need to trust them to make decisions autonomously and do what they need to do.  They also need to know that you are there to support them and guide them, when they ask for it. If these lines are blurred, the whole system falls apart.

Remember, you need to do something different to get a different result.  Focus on the good things (which are usually the majority) and manage the exceptions (which are usually the minority).  You can choose where to focus your attention.

Get in touch with Matt Schlyder, to learn more about the functional structure of your law firm.

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