Strategy Development

Adam Smith Esq. Strategy Our process is an inclusive one that helps facilitate the all-important buy-in and successful implementation.
Strategic planning is part of our DNA.

Now, the very notion of Strategy can seem daunting, off-putting, or an unaffordable luxury given the press of day to day client demands.  We’re here to tell you that it’s none of those things.

Nor is “Strategy” mysterious: It’s about making choices in the marketplace in order to win. In Competitive Strategy, perhaps the most widely respected book on strategy ever, Michael Porter defined it as “deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver unique value.”  In Playing to Win, A.G. Lafley (former Chairman & CEO, Procter & Gamble) and Roger Martin (Dean, Rotman School of Management), call it “an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition.”

Here’s what strategy is not:

  • It’s not a “vision.”  Mission and vision statements can be pieces of strategy, but in themselves they’re insufficient; they make no choices about what businesses to be in and not to be in, they don’t specify actions, and they have no roadmap.
  • Strategy is not a plan.  The most detailed imaginable plans and tactics don’t mean you’ll end up with sustainable competitive advantage after doing everything they call for.
  • Strategy is not impossible.  Some believe the competitive environment is changing so quickly that it’s useless to think in advance and the most effective counsel is to react to new threats and opportunities as they emerge. But even in the fastest-paced industries, leading firms behave quite differently. Do you think Amazon ignores strategy? Google?
  • Strategy is not optimizing your business as it is today.  Operational discipline is great (we confess to being huge fans), but without strategic foresight you may find you’ve optimized legacy and obsolete functions.
  • Finally, and this is doubly true in Law Land, strategy is not copying “best practices.” Benchmarking against the competition is one thing and one thing only: A shortcut to mediocrity.

Developing a strategic plan is a serious and sometimes challenging undertaking for a firm.  A growing body of evidence supports the hypothesis that firms who (a) have a compelling strategy and (b) stick to it are more successful than firms who don’t.  The strategic plan must recognize the distinctive situation of each firm: Its history, what the partnership is capable of, the markets and industries it operates in, where its opportunities lie, the competition, etc.: In short, bespoke. There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” strategy. (And no, we don’t have any of those 2 x 2 matrices with an arrow pointing up and to the right.)

Moreover, the process itself needs to be approached in a systematic, deliberate fashion.  Without a purposeful and well-designed process, it can be difficult to convince the partnership of the plan’s integrity, jeopardizing buy-in.The strategic plan need not, in fact should not, be a lengthy document.  Rather it should be a clear-eyed articulation of where the firm is, crisp articulation of the direction forward, priority opportunities to focus on and action items that will deliver on the firm’s goals.  This should be capable of being distilled into a single page–or less.

At Adam Smith, Esq., we work with firms of all types and sizes and in all geographies to help them develop and articulate meaningful strategies aimed at making a difference.  We systematically gather, develop and sift a wide range of data and information about the firm, its place in the market, how it views itself and how others view it, its financial underpinnings, compensation and governance policies, external perspectives, opportunities and foreclosed options, etc.  If there are gaps, we have variety of techniques to uncover the necessary information.

Our process is an inclusive one that helps facilitate the all-important buy-in and subsequent implementation.  We encourage firms to establish a small working group, representing key “voices” at the firm—with whom we can work and test ideas with during the planning process.We view proposals as starting points for conversations, not finished documents.  Indeed, a “strategic plan” itself had best be a living, breathing commitment, or it’s not worth doing.The “end product” should be incisive and to the point, including, among other things, a “Plan on a Page” so that agreed-to priorities and action items are clearly laid out and can be readily tracked.


Opportunity Assessment Boot Camps


Coming out of this half-day workshop, you’ll have a very good sense of your firm’s or practice area’s priorities for growth, investment (and divestment) – and action plans for each priority.  You’ll be well on your way to having a focused plan that aligns with your strategies and business goals – that you can begin implementing immediately.The workshop is a highly structured program, facilitated by Janet Stanton and Bruce MacEwen, where key stakeholders at your firm or practice area participate and reach consensus by evaluating and ranking priorities and then developing and agreeing to specific action items for the top priorities.  It is a very effective, condensed, and efficient program to achieve alignment and buy-in for programs that will improve performance, market visibility and competitiveness.


How to identify your best opportunities


No firm has infinite resources to pursue all possible opportunities.  In fact, “doing a little bit of everything” is often a recipe for disaster–or at best for being mediocre at lots.  Therefore, developing an effective plan entails saying “no” or “not yet.” The question is: how do you decide which opportunities represent the greatest potential for your firm?  And how do you ensure that these decisions will generate consensus? We have a “tool kit” of techniques that help firms objectively identify the most fruitful opportunities and build consensus on where to invest a firm’s limited resources.  For example, our techniques help firms identify which practice areas or offices to invest in.

We can also help firms sort out which clients on your roster represent a more likely path to growth – an effective engine to drive a firm’s cross-serving program.  We can help firms identify specific cross-serving opportunities – by practice area, office and even as granular as by partner. Once you’ve identified clients to focus on, we can also help you build a specific plan for each client, because as we all know effective client service is bespoke.These formats all use objective criteria and facts, so outputs have solid rationales which will help facilitate adoption.  We also encourage firms to include a reasonable representation of key constituencies in the process.  This helps the partnership believe in the integrity of the process – and therefore helps build buy-in.


Does your strategic plan need a tune-up?


You have a plan—good for you!  But it’s been a few years.  Do the same assumptions hold as when it was first developed?  Are the market dynamics shifting?  It may be time to re-visit the plan.  At Adam Smith, Esq., we don’t believe this situation always requires starting from scratch.  In fact, we believe there can be benefits in preserving many of the key drivers of a strategic plan.  First off, people are familiar with the plan.  Introducing something completely different can be confusing, counter-productive, and lead to a host of frankly irrelevant distractions (for starters, “Are we now casting doubt on the previous plan?”)  We recommend building on what has worked and amending what hasn’t so much.

At Adam Smith, Esq., we provide dispassionate third-party assessments of strategic plans and can suggest ways to update and improve them to enhance their effectiveness going forward.  Change for change sake may be costly and uncalled for.


How to ensure strategic plans actually happen


Securing buy-in to a plan at a law firm can be easily as challenging as developing the plan itself.  The reason is that any meaningful strategy entails saying “no” (or “not yet”) to someone—certain practice groups, partners or offices.  In order to be able to say “no” and have it stick, firm management needs bullet-proof rationales for their decisions and meaningful consensus around the process.

At Adam Smith, Esq., our work is based on inputs and insights from those at each firm, data and objective assessments, which are very hard to argue against.  We also believe it is critical for the planning process to be inclusive of key constituencies at the firm.  Managed participation in the planning process also helps secure buy-in and our approach maximizes participation of key voices at each firm.  Not everyone’s view can prevail, but everyone’s view can and must be heard.

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Bruce MacEwen, President
direct: +1.212.866.4800
mobile: .+1.212.866.2630
New York

Janet Stanton, Partner
direct: +1.212.866.4270
New York

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