A Case Study on Industry Focus
Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt—known as Schwabe— was at an inflection point in its history when Managing Partner Mark Long reached out in 2015 to Catapult Growth Partners. The law firm, based in the Pacific Northwest, was grappling with several major concurrent issues: a new strategic plan, management succession, and a rebranding effort complete with a new website.
The firm is 165 lawyers strong, with about 350 total staff in offices in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Bend, Salem, Eugene, and Mountain View, CA. We spoke with numerous attorneys, key staff, and several clients to get a stronger sense of what the firm was bringing to market and to gauge internal and external perspectives. We found a vibrant, cohesive culture, with shared values of inclusion and respect.
Specifically, Schwabe lawyers have a passionate and unwavering commitment to their role as counsel and an unswerving dedication to protecting the interests of clients. Everyone in the organization is also comfortable and confident in aggressively promoting the firm and their colleagues.
What we also found was that, although clients appreciated the work of individual practitioners, their perceptions were murky about the strengths of Schwabe overall and what other services were available. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, these clients were demanding much greater value at less cost, with a greater emphasis on arriving at well-conceived business solutions rather than simply solving legal problems.
The goals set by management were also telling: not only had they set ambitious financial targets, but they also wanted to expand and dominate regionally the key industries they served. Together, Catapult and firm leadership arrived at the conclusion that an audacious, externally focused reorganization was in order. In the words of Mark Long, it was time to take the organization down to the studs and rebuild it.
Through an analysis of billable matters over the past several years, it became clear that an industry focus was the key to moving Schwabe into a robust future. A decision was made to organize the firm into six industry groups: natural resources, healthcare, technology, manufacturing and distribution, transportation, ports and maritime and real estate and construction. All branding and every bit of marketing material would reflect this shift.
This bold, exciting direction could only have been achieved with the remarkably strong culture at Schwabe, along with visionary leadership. It received an incredible response from clients and was well covered by the business media in key markets where the firm operates.
The decision immediately yielded results: the firm became markedly differentiated, viewed as much more sophisticated than its competitors. By learning the ins and outs of specific industries, Schwabe lawyers became much more embedded in clients’ businesses, making these companies much less likely to switch outside counsel. And creating this higher value role delivers more interesting opportunities and higher job satisfaction for individual lawyers.
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Doug Johnson has 25 years of experience developing and executing strategic growth plans within a wide range of professional service firms. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303-995-1131.