Law firms are facing intensifying growth pressure. Competitive and client forces have pushed law firms to not only focus on increasing revenue and profitability, but perhaps more importantly, to add practice depth, practice breadth, overall scale, and geographic reach. Significant investments in lateral hiring and law firm combinations have changed the competitive landscape by forming new, dominant firms in particular practice areas, industries, and geographic regions. This has reshaped the AmLaw 200, with an increasing number of firms now offering considerable scale and reach compared to existing competitors, regionally, nationally, and internationally. This evolution has created new choices for clients seeking advisors who can provide services across multiple jurisdictions or offer superior depth in particular practices and industries, further fueling the race for market share and the pressure on law firms to grow.
Each year we look ahead and make predictions for the coming year. Each year brings uncertainty, and 2023 appears to be bringing more uncertainty than most. Economic headwinds, inflation, the threat of a possible recession, global unrest, and in particular the decline in the corporate transactions that drove much of law firms’ success in 2021 and the first half of 2022, are raising questions for many about what the coming year will hold for law firms.
After several strong years of performance, and looking ahead at economic uncertainty, the time has never been better for firms to revisit and reevaluate their capital structures to ensure that contributed capital is effectively supporting the firm’s current and anticipated future capital needs.
While some of the elements of differentiation among firms are based on factors like geography and history, others are driven by actions firms have taken to change (or preserve) their competitive position. Based on our work with high performing firms, we see four broad themes that drive superior performance.
While law firms have been necessarily preoccupied with shorter term operational requirements, ongoing evolution in the legal industry and the broader economy continues to challenge firms to rethink their strategy and overall competitive position. Many firms recognize the need for establishing a more current and coherent long term direction, but they also find the idea of long term strategic planning daunting in the midst of tumultuous change. How should law firms seek to develop a strategic plan in such a volatile environment?