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Strategic Planning in Non-Profit Legal Services Organizations
Marie Contreras Benchmark Institute, 2002

What is strategic planning?
Strategic planning is the process by which the guiding members of an organization envision its future and develop the necessary procedures and operations to achieve that future. Pfeiffer, J. William et al., Applied Strategic Planning, University Associates, 1985

Strategic planning differs from long range planning in that it takes a more proactive approach to the future. Long range planning projects future trends from current information and determines how an organization will respond. Strategic planning determines what an organization should look like in the future and what steps are necessary to accomplish that result.

How does it help legal services?
Strategic planning can help us survive and even thrive even in today's world.

Most nonprofit organizations operate in a crisis mode with too many legal services programs at the head of the line. We deal with issues impacting on our ability to provide service -- political, social and technological trends, lack of resources, for example -- on a day-by-day basis rather than planning to meet them ahead of time.

To insure our continued existence and excellent client services, we need to make time to look ahead and plan. In doing so, some of the daily management crises will ultimately be eliminated and others will be easier to manage within the strategic plan framework.

The strategic plan also helps us in getting funding from individuals, corporations and foundations. The articulated sense of purpose and well- developed plan to achieve the goals help potential funders to understand what their gifts can accomplish. Sudden opportunities will be easier to assess within the framework of a plan and, if deemed appropriate, to incorporate into the operation. Pertinent information can also be drawn from the strategic plan for particular proposals.

How much time does it take?
Most legal services organizations should allow 12-18 months for the process of developing a strategic plan. Developing a plan in less than twelve months usually entails a far greater workload than most organizations can easily absorb. When the planning extends beyond 18 months, the planning team often loses its momentum.

During this period, the planning team should meet regularly, usually every four to six weeks. Each member of the planning team will have specific responsibilities to accomplish during the time between each meeting.

What is the role of a consultant?
A consultant can bring additional expertise to the process. He or she can help the group stay with the timetable set, facilitate planning team meetings, provide expertise in data gathering and analysis, problem solving and performance measurement.

How often should the strategic plan be updated?
In order to remain effective, a strategic plan should be reviewed annually. Information from the environmental scanning should be updated, existing goals and objectives reviewed and new ones established.

What are the steps involved in crafting a plan?
There are many ways. Most methods include these elements:

Planning to Plan
Determining readiness

Developing commitment of key leaders

Identifying and educating the planning team

Establishing realistic time frames

Environmental Scanning
Scanning the macro environment including social factors such as demographics, economic and political factors

Conducting a client needs assessment

Monitoring the legal field and legal services environment

Gathering information on the organization including structure and history

Values Audit
Conducting a values audit

Examining the organization's operating philosophy

Analyzing the organization's culture

Conducting a stakeholder analysis

Mission Formulation
Determining driving forces

Identifying the organization's distinctive competencies

Determining what function the organization performs, for whom, and how

Strategic Business Modeling
Developing a strategic profile including a risk orientation and approach to competition

Determining critical success indicators

Identifying proposed lines of business

Performance Audit
Conducting an internal resource analysis

Analyzing external forces

Determining client environment

Determining competitive environment

Gap Analysis
Comparing the desired future state with the current state

Adjusting objectives if the gap is too large or determining creative solutions to closing the gap

Contingency Planning
Determining internal and external vulnerabilities

Determining internal and external opportunities

Establishing contingency plans and trigger points for implementation

Integrating Functional Plans
Deciding each unit of the organization will meet strategic goals

Allocating resources

Introducing the final plan to all staff

Using the strategic plan to guide all decisions