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Written by Norman Clark and Lisa M. Walker Johnson
Published: 28 July 2017
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By Georg Wilhelm Timm (1820-1895) [Public domain][PD-US], via Wikimedia Commons

Almost every law firm has some type of "about us" page on its website.

Have you ever considered what an honest "autobiography" of your firm would say?

Of course, it wouldn't be for publication, but it could be more important than what you publish to the world.

If a law firm has never undertaken a formal, structured strategic planning process, sometimes an excellent first step is to write an honest "autobiography" of the firm. This exercise can help the partners and other participants begin to focus on the foundations on which they can build their future. It is especially efficient and useful for small and midsize firms.

getting started by asking nine questions

Ask your partners to answer, in writing, these nine questions:

1. What do you consider to be our firm's three most important current strengths in our ability to meet our clients' needs and expectations?

2. What do you consider to be our firm's three most important difficulties as we try to meet our clients' needs and expectations?

3. What, if anything, does our firm do better than any of our competitors?

4. What does our firm not do quite as well as most of our competitors?

5. How is our firm different from the other law firms in our market?

6. What actions do you observe in our firm that are examples of our firm's culture "at its best?"

7. What actions do you observe in our firm that are contrary to our firm's culture?

8. What do you consider to be the three greatest challenges to our firm's continued success?

9. What, if anything, is your greatest personal concern about your own future in our law firm?

Then compile the responses into a single document -- your firm's autobiography -- which, to the extent possible, identifies the areas of general consensus among your partners and the significant disagreements. This document can be a powerful way to lead into an in-depth discussion of the genuinely significant issues that confront your firm and the decisions that you will need to make to build the future that you want to achieve.

not a quick fix or a warm-up

Obviously, this is not a quick "warm-up" exercise for a partner's meeting. Each partner should invest whatever time he or she needs to answer each question concisely but in depth. The tasks of compiling and analyzing the responses, and then merging them into a draft autobiography -- or sometimes two or three alternative drafts -- also will take time. Likewise, the partners should invest enough time to discuss the draft (or drafts) fully and to develop a final version that all of them can accept as a fair and reasonable description of their firm. 

The discussion process itself can produce substantial benefits for the partnership, such as:

Law firms tell us that they usually get the best results when knowledgeable outsiders, such as a Walker Clark facilitation team, facilitate the discussion. This frees all the partners to concentrate their attention fully on the substantive issues, rather than diluting the participation of the partner who is chosen as the moderator, who also must attempt to ensure a full discussion of the issues and manage it impartially toward a productive conclusion.

a confident first step in the right direction

No, you probably will not want to publish your firm's autobiography on the website (although in many cases it might be an improvement over the dull, self-congratulatory histories that are irrelevant to most clients).  Nor is an autobiography a substitute for a fully-considered, well-informed plan. However, you will have a better idea of "where you are" as a law firm, and you will have sketched your first map to your firm's future.

A journey of a hundred miles begins with a single step, and an autobiography can help some firms be more confident that their first step is in the right direction.

What does an autobiography look like? Click here to download a redacted autobiography which we drafted for a midsize law firm.

To find out whether an autobiography might be a productive first step in your firm's planning process, contact us by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at one of the telephone numbers at the bottom of this page.

Norman Clark andLisa M. Walker Johnson