Strategy is everything in the fight for survival

The legal marketplace may be enjoying one of its best years ever, but there are still many firms which are not enjoying the fruits of this boom.

Last week, The Lawyer reported the demise of 19-partner West End firm Forsyte Saunders Kerman, which will split next month with its property department going to Lawrence Graham and six other partners heading to Edward Lewis.

September will also mark the demise of the respected 14-partner Fleet Street firm, Franks Charlesly. It appears that the defection of one key equity partner sparked that firm's collapse.

Next month, Frere Cholmeley Bischoff will officially be no more.

There are many individual and unrelated reasons for the closure of all three firms. But it is sad that, in a time of economic prosperity, firms with such long and proud histories are giving up the ghost.

But for other similarly sized practices their demise is a timely reminder of the increasingly difficult ground occupied by the smaller commercial firms.

They face the dilemma of having to compete in an increasingly specialist environment while at the same time having to find sufficient resources to invest in the reshaping of their practices.

Devising a strategy and then following it is not easy, as any managing partner will no doubt testify.

The biggest headache of all at the moment is getting the right people in place to deliver a workable strategy and then keeping them. Even the most profitable firms are having problems recruiting.

However, survival without a strategy in place is well nigh impossible to guarantee. The current climate may cloud the issue somewhat – when business is going well, it is sometimes difficult to find time to prepare for the future. However, firms which fail to grasp the nettle now will pay a heavy price when times get harder.

The demise of Forsyte Saunders, Franks Charlesly and Frere Cholmeley are clear examples of what can happen if there is no workable long-term strategy in place.