For those of you who are currently considering a move, particularly those seeking a partner-level role, you will no doubt be looking forward to putting together a business plan.
For most of you I use the term ‘looking forward to’ quite wrongly.
For many of even the most astute and commercially-minded lawyers the suggestion of having to put together a business plan seems to bring out deeply suppressed fears and much anguish. The very concept of committing to paper a list of clients and potential revenue streams which will follow when moving firms does in some cases cause huge concern, as does formulating a strategy for firstly integrating and then expanding an existing practice into a new firm.
But does it really need to be like this? Is there an easy way round this?
Of course there is. Be realistic; not pessimistic.
As a rough ballpark figure we would estimate that about 75% of partners we work with subscribe to the mantra of “under-promise, over-deliver”. There is nothing they would like more than to walk into a new firm on the premise of bringing a client following of £800k and then blowing the partnership away as they manage billings of £1m+ in Year One to much applause, back-slapping, adulation and cigars all round.
Sadly though you are unlikely to even get your foot in the door to prove this, and it all comes down to salary. If you can bill £1m a year then you’re probably already doing so at your current firm (or have done recently), and unless something has gone spectacularly wrong you’re likely being recompensed accordingly, picking up somewhere between £300k-£400k per annum. Whilst partners will move for less money if the opportunity is right then it is unlikely that too many will drop from that figure to the circa £250k you would need to accept if selling yourself as an £800k biller.
Be aware that no decent recruiter is going to advise you to enhance, titillate, exaggerate or downright lie on your business plan, but you need to be aware that looking at a worst case scenario on your plan may leave you in an even worse case scenario – that nobody wants you and you’re left where you are! A good business plan can be both optimistic and realistic, and finding that middle ground between what you are comfortable pitching and what your new firm is expecting is the key to making the move work.
Be aware that nothing in life is certain; similarly firms do not and cannot expect your business plan to be 100% bullet-proof. It is a document which indicates what you anticipate happening, and as long as you have not entered the realms of fantasy when creating it then there may be a certain degree of leeway given if not everything pans out as expected.
With more firms taking steps to protect their client base, including assigning multiple partners to each key account, it can be harder to guarantee with any certainty which work will definitely follow. If your business plan outlines 4 clients who are 100% to move, 3 who are at 75% and 5 at 50%, you are unlikely to find your neck on the line if one of the 50%ers decides to remain where they are, particularly if your business plan has been explicit in stating the likelihood of moving and the firm has made you an offer on this fully-informed basis.
The business plan also tells a lot about you as an individual; what your awareness of the market is and how you judge the strength of the brand you may be joining in terms of their ability to attract work of a particular calibre. If you are moving to Sleepy, Dopey, Bashful & Co, a three-partner firm in a quiet town in rural Herefordshire then your ambitions to attract all of the corporate work from Coca Cola and IBM may be somewhat misplaced. Similarly it shows a level of commercial nous that you have an idea of controlling costs and where investment in marketing and suchlike is likely to pay off.
Business plans are now an essential part of the recruitment process at many levels of qualification, not just partner. More often than not we are finding that associates are being asked to prepare a guideline of their client base and potential following, and also those lawyers who are seeking to reach partner status where they are now need to prepare a full business plan to be perused by a partnership body or committee prior to any promotion of this nature being considered. Working hard and delivering on your billing targets is no longer enough. Indeed just this week one of our consultants is representing a three year qualified lawyer who has an impressive following of work, and she is being asked to put together a business case to make the hire a feasible option.
The business plan is not a document to be feared description. It’s not a noose with which to hang yourself as some may believe; instead view it as your passport to a new opportunity where you can deliver on the promises you’ve made.