State Bar of Michigan Strategic Plan

As with all basically healthy organizations, a periodic assessment of where you and are where you want to be is a prudent investment in the future. Two overriding issues propelled the current planning effort. Firstly, there are the dramatic changes in the practice of law as almost all current practitioners know it. Secondly was the identification by the Executive Director of some serious fiscal issues that demanded short-term, immediate attention and a longer-term approach to preventing such problems in the future. Happily, the leadership of the Bar, under Tom Ryan, President, Bruce Neckers, President-elect, John Berry Executive Director and the other officers and commissioners, all realized the need for action. These catalysts converged to provide a perfect opportunity to take a fresh look at the future. Based on two major reports (the CMG Report to the Board of Commissioners and the State Bar of Michigan Program Summaries) as well as on the wisdom, diversity and commitment of the members of the Strategic Planning Advisory Group (SPAG: please see Addendum A), this Strategic Plan was created.


    Because most planning errors are made when decisions are based on shaky assumptions, considerable time was devoted by the Board of Commissioners and senior staff (November 2000) and then revisited by SPAG, to establishing assumptions that would guide the State Bar's planning. Assumptions are 'best guess' estimates of probable developments which cannot be predicted with accuracy, and over which the organization has little control. The composite list of key assumptions are presented below, in no particular order.

    By 2006 lawyers in Michigan will:

    1. face increased legislative, judicial, and federal regulation
    2. have to be more active in the legislative arena to protect the role of lawyers and their ability to serve the public
    3. have a no-fault tort system
    4. continue to advocate for access to justice for all
    5. be subject to regional/international licensing
    6. see more specialty and regional bars
    7. still not have resolved the "elected/appointed" judiciary issues
    8. find decreased respect for the judiciary and the bar
    9. have less lawyer legislators
    10. be deregulated, possibly in a voluntary bar
    11. see an increase in certain types of practice, e.g., probate and health law
    12. compete with more alternative sources for legal services and information,
    13. be in merged large firms or in small or solo boutique/niche practice firms
    14. find increased pressures on solos
    15. earn less money per lawyer on average
    16. see greater income disparity among lawyers and among clients
    17. practice in more non-traditional settings
    18. change billing practices
    19. see less client loyalty/more shopping for fees
    20. have to respond to greater client expectations, e.g., cyber proficiency, demands for accountability, and utilization of ADR
    21. find it harder to start a practice
    22. have more salaried lawyers
    23. rely increasingly on technology for communications, information, and marketing services
    24. have fewer practice boundaries with increased interstate reciprocity
    25. need less office support services
    26. have to be more accountable to clients
    27. witness the disenfranchisement of clients with no technical skills
    28. see more negative impact on "technologically challenged" attorneys unable to work in virtual offices and courtrooms
    29. e-filing and video reenactments will be routine
    30. have more flexible work hours
    31. have to practice globally or be overtaken by global networks
    32. enjoy a greater diversification of the profession and the client base
    33. work within a grayer country
    34. continue to see the image of lawyers decline
    35. work with a growing number of less qualified lawyers
    36. be in more pre-paid legal plans
    37. see younger judges
    38. be a boundaryless profession
    39. continue to be under stress
    40. see more switching to non-traditional careers outside of the practice of law
    41. have to find ways to reduce overhead and manage practices more efficiently
    42. increasingly compete with non-lawyers for delivery of many services that were traditionally provided by lawyers

    Working forward from these assumptions, the challenge for SPAG was to consider how to develop mechanisms to effectively retain SBM's products, programs, and services which are still valid, to eliminate those which may have obsolesced, and to create new ones to meet the needs and expectations of the changing face of the profession and of the environment in which it functions.

    There was a clear recognition that this would require setting and sticking to established priorities, in order to be able to implement an ambitious plan of action with limited resources. Most important was the understanding, proposed by current leadership, that SBM will be driven by the organization's vision of the future as documented in its plan, to enable the organization to follow a chosen path over several administrations.

The Statement of Purpose

    A statement of purpose, or mission, is designed to define an organization's fundamental reason for being, and for whom. It also establishes the scope of its major activity areas, providing the framework for selecting the goals and strategies required to move the organization forward. After some discussion and consideration of alternatives, SPAG reviewed the description of the Bar's purpose as stated in Supreme Court documents, and agreed that it was still accurate and on target: "...The State Bar of Michigan shall aid in promoting improvements in the administration of justice and advancements in jurisprudence, in improving relations between the legal profession and the public, and in promoting the interests of the legal profession in this state." This statement provides the foundation upon which the SBM Strategic Plan is built and positions SBM to:

  • promote the professionalism of lawyers
  • advocate for an open, fair, and accessible justice system
  • provide services to members that enable them to best serve their clients

SBM Goals

    To achieve its purpose, SBM will identify and pursue specific goals. These goals will drive SBM's structure, governance, staffing, and budgeting, and will serve as the basis for all evaluations of achievement and performance. The following broad goals and objectives were established for SBM:

    1. SBM will provide programs and services that advance its mission and meet or exceed member expectations.

      To achieve this goal, SBM will:

      1.1 Champion character and fitness

      1.2 Publish an E-Journal

      1.3 Expand practical nuts and bolts programs in law office management, including attention to technological knowledge and skills

      1.4 Maintain a content-rich, interactive, easy to navigate website:

        1.4.1 Build virtual and physical learning communities that meet member and customer needs
        1.4.2 Enable free or affordable access to a variety of existing and/or SBM specific data bases
        1.4.3 Support communications across the organization

      1.5 Introduce a cost effective, competitive e-filing program

      1.6 Develop and enforce practice of law standards for UPL, MDP and MJP

      1.7 Expand membership sales and marketing services

      1.8 Strengthen Access to Justice and Open Justice programs through increased attention to external as well as internal delivery systems

      1.9 Strengthen partnership with ICLE to assure quality continuing legal education for members

      1.10 Review and evaluate all programs and services on a regular basis to determine if they should be maintained at current levels, redesigned, or retired.

    2. SBM will aggressively advocate for issues that support its statement of purpose, minimize divisiveness and are achievable.

      To achieve this goal, SBM will:

      2.1 Increase opportunities for member input when new policy areas are being considered

      2.2 Expand publication and dissemination of information about:

        2.2.1 issues now being closely followed
        2.2.2 legislative and regulatory achievements

      2.3 Clarify and communicate the appropriate advocacy role and function of the State Bar, its sections, and its committees in accordance with Supreme Court Administrative Order 1993-5

      2.4 Serve as an active mediator of position conflicts between or among sections, or between a section and the corporate State Bar

      2.5 Continue to support the professional management of the public policy program

    3. SBM will actively work to increase the public's trust and confidence in the justice system, the value of the legal profession and the practicing lawyer.

      To achieve this goal SBM will:

      3.1 Establish and maintain improved interactive communications about programs, services, public policy positions, fiscal issues, and the Bar's structure and governance among leaders, and members

      3.2 Establish the ability of the State Bar to be known by the media, the public, and the members as the source of reliable information on legal issues:

        3.2.1 Position qualified SBM leaders as spokespeople on legal issues
        3.2.2 Provide media training to leaders of local and state bar to enable appropriate written, electronic, and oral response to issues that affect the administration of justice in Michigan
        3.2.3 Utilize any appropriate means of communicating messages, e.g., letters to the editor, op ed articles, appearances on talk shows, and similar vehicles

      3.3 Develop a rapid response management plan for critical and or breaking issues, coordinating closely with sections

      3.4 Seek and maintain strong and positive relationships with:

        3.4.1 The Supreme Court
        3.4.2 The Institute for Continued legal Education (ICLE)
        3.4.3 Local and specialty bars
        3.4.4 The Michigan State Bar Foundation
        3.4.5 Attorney discipline systems in Michigan (Attorney Grievance Commission, Attorney Discipline Board, and Judicial Tenure Commission)

    4. SBM will provide the tools to enable members, leaders and staff to serve the profession and the Bar at optimal levels.

      To achieve this goal, SBM will:

      4.1 Assure the availability of qualified staff to implement each approved priority area of activity:

        4.1.1 Utilize the achievement of priorities as the key measure of staff effectiveness in every evaluation of every staff member

      4.2 Arrange annual training for leaders of every SBM structural entity:

        4.2.1 Include leadership of local bars and specialty bar associations as appropriate

      4.3 Provide ongoing mechanisms for member and staff feedback to keep the Strategic Plan current and the Bar focused on appropriate priorities

      4.4 Appreciate the time constraints of members by providing short-term opportunities to accomplish important and meaningful projects that advance the Bar's mission

      4.5 Increase and evidence the Bar's commitment to diversity

    5. SBM will assure the long-term solvency of the organization.

      To achieve this goal, SBM will:

      5.1 Immediately address current deficit:

        5.1.1 Determine cuts to be made
        5.1.2 Encourage development of new non-dues revenue sources
        5.1.3 Plan for a future dues increase
        5.1.4 Put in place a process for nominal, automatic dues increases after that to assure a stable dues structure for the future

      5.2 Set and plan to achieve a cash reserve policy and a minimum below which the cash reserve may not fall

      5.3 Eliminate programming of comparable cost or acquire additional revenue before any new program is launched

        5.3.1 Allow no unfunded mandates
        5.3.2 Establish a process for accurately estimating and justifying all new expenses and/or revenue projections for every new proposal

      5.4 Develop a fee-for-service approach for extraordinary programs and services that fall outside of the general programs and services that all members receive

      5.5 Revisit current format of Annual Meeting to increase attendance and make it at least revenue neutral by 2004:

        5.5.1 If this is not achieved, reform, or discontinue it

      5.6 Initiate zero-based budgeting, i.e., base future budgets on future program and service priorities rather than on past budgets

    6. SBM will be structured and governed so as to facilitate timely decision making and efficient utilization of human, technological and fiscal resources.

      To achieve this goal, SBM will:

      6.1 Reassess the role and composition of the Board of Commissioners to:

        6.1.1 Review and implement use of approved and widely disseminated criteria for the selection of candidates by the Nominating Committee for Commissioner positions
        6.1.2 Determine appropriate role of Board of Commissioners in bar governance

      6.2 Reassess the role and composition of the Representative Assembly to:

        6.2.1 Assure increased diversity, beyond geography, e.g., by section, local bar, and specialty bar leadership
        6.2.2 Serve as the voice of the membership in identifying critical issues, emerging trends, and recommended public policy positions, for attention by the Board of Commissioners
        6.2.3 Strengthen communications with the Board of Commissioners
        6.2.4 Determine appropriate role of the Representative Assembly in bar governance

      6.3 Keep only those committees whose charge and purpose contribute to achieving current Bar priorities:

        6.3.1 Annually assess each committee and eliminate those without relevant purpose
        6.3.2 Increase use of time and task specific assignments

      6.4 Provide increased support to sections

      6.5 Track achievement of strategic initiatives at each board meeting:

        6.5.1 Align volunteer and staff evaluation instruments with achievement of SBM goals
        6.5.2 Establish and stick to priorities over enough time to achieve them
        6.5.3 Arrange for an annual, detailed Board review of this Strategic Plan


    Critical to the success of this plan will be the understanding that this plan covers a three-year period, i.e. goals are scheduled for full implementation by 2004. Because of this, implementation strategies should be assigned over a three-year timeline, with all resources allocated accordingly. The annual business plan developed by staff to support long term goals should include:

    1) A priority order for addressing desired outcomes
    2) A determination about the destination for each strategy, i.e. who will have responsibility for its accomplishment
    3) A budget to support the action plans
    4) An accountability tracking mechanism
    5) A timetable for achievement of each desired outcome
    6) Interim benchmarks and evaluation schedules. It is important for the SBM Board to review and approve the business plan. By establishing both responsibility and a timeline, the executive director and the Board can monitor implementation. The Strategic Plan itself should be revisited annually, for amendment if warranted, and as part of the annual leadership conference. It should not be started from scratch each year. Goal achievement should be a principal tool for evaluating board, committee and staff performance.Should a crisis or a dramatic change occur in the environment in which SBM operates, SBM should be able to respond promptly. However, for each new task or program taken on, another should be dropped or deferred, unless additional resources, fiscal, human, technological, and time, are provided. This is essential to prevent overload for volunteers and staff, to avoid budget deficits, and to preclude a lack of attention to priority projects. An organization's ability to be fast, focused and accountable, to stay ahead of trends, and to anticipate crisis is what makes for success and accomplishment. SBM is well positioned for that challenge.

    The strategic planning process was designed, facilitated, and reported by Dadie Perlov, CAE, Consensus Management Group, 22 West 66 St, New York, NY 10023

    August 2001