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If traditional strategic planning methods have not produced the results that your firm wants, you might want to consider Future Search.

Future Search is a planning methodology developed by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff. More information is available at the website of the Future Search Network: http://www.futuresearch.net. Future Searches have been used in a wide range of settings in business, government, NGOs, and community organizations. Our firm has occasionally used Future Search as a planning methodology for law firms and legal services organizations.

Click here to download a paper that our firm has produced to guide law firms in determining whether they should select Future Search as a strategic planning method.

The advantages of a Future Search in a law firm are:

  • It is relatively quick. Unlike a traditional strategic planning project, which might take 6 months or more to complete in a large law firm, and might demand hundreds of partner hours, a Future Search Conference takes 16 hours over three consecutive days. This makes it ideal for a three-day weekend retreat.
  • It is very well-informed and efficient. One of the mantras of the Future Search methodology is to "get the whole system in the room." This improves the probability of the firm having all of the relevant information it needs, and lowers the risk of overlooking a critical point.
  • It is inclusive. As part of the "whole system in the room" concept, a Future Search includes not only partners or lawyers, but people from all stakeholder groups, which can include staff, suppliers, and -- especially valuable for law firms -- clients, as represented by in-house counsel or senior executives. This can be very important for implementation.
  • It defines common ground. Although there might be significant disagreements about a firm's strategy, Future Search seeks and defines the common ground on which all people can agree. This is important to build the greatest buy-in, which is to ensure that the decisions can be implemented without resistance or sabotage.
  • Implementation usually begins at the conference. The firm does not have to wait for a report before it can start to work on implementation. A Future Search conference usually ends with the preliminary development of and -- this is very important -- commitment to action plans.

In our firm's experience working with the Future Search methodology over the past 13 years, we have observed that it works particularly well for law firms that:

  • are at a crossroads, and need to make extremely important decisions about the future of the firm
  • are facing transitions, such as changing leadership and changing market conditions
  • need strategic planning, but cannot agree on the priorities
  • have been disappointed by previous planning efforts
  • have partners with sharply opposing views on complex issues about which they cannot achieve a consensus
  • have to manage many apparently conflicting issues and factors
  • believe that their decision-making processes have become paralyzed
  • need to move forward but time is growing short.

On the other hand, Future Search is not the best method if a firm wants to:

  • revisit or debate past problems
  • resolve interpersonal conflicts among the partners
  • do "team building"
  • promote the agenda of one person or group
  • address issues that affect only a small part of the firm
  • place some topics "off limits" or control the outcome
  • keep information from some participants
  • have external experts provide the answers

Future Search can produce a very high return on investment for law firms of any size. To determine whether your firm should consider this innovative planning methodology, download Future Search Is It Right For Your Firm 2014.pdf

Norman Clark