Whenever you ask your lawyer friends how they’re doing, you always get the same answer. The answer is so matter-of-fact that you could answer the question before you’re finished asking: “I am so busy you wouldn’t believe it.” It seems that lawyers are just like everyone: extremely busy. You run around doing lawyer stuff that you never seem to have time to sit down and just think, “Why am I doing this?”
But if you never ask “WHY” you are doing what you do, you will be doomed to the life of the lab rat running endlessly on a flywheel. Unless you know why you are doing the “lawyer work”, you will never have a life of purpose and meaning.
To create a life of purpose and meaning, you must first take the time to sit down and think of the vision for your career (and it wouldn’t hurt to think of the vision for your life too while you’re at it). I know what you’re thinking: I have no time for this “vision stuff”, I’ve got work to do. And it’s completely okay if you want to keep doing things like every other lawyer in your town (I’m not passing judgment), but if you do what everyone else is doing, you will be just like them: average.
“Until you’re clear where you’re going, it’s hard to get there.”
Clate Mask, CEO & Founder of Infusionsoft
Vision provides clarity, alignment and inspiration for your employees and gives a higher purpose to your staff than just earning money. In other words, it’s important that you exist and do what you do. A law firm without vision is like a boat without a rudder—there is nothing guiding you or your employees. You may be moving, but you’re just floating aimlessly without a specific destination. Once you get the vision clear, it acts as a magnet for the type of talent in alignment with your vision. You can then hire, train and fire based on your vision.
Vision instills clarity and confidence from chaos and confusion
Setting the vision for your law firm requires three things: PURPOSE, VALUES and MISSION. There is no more important thing you can do for your career that to establish the purpose, values and mission for your law practice. So if you’re still with me, let’s get started with your purpose.
“It is impossible to have a great life unless it’s a meaningful life.”
Jim Collins, Good to Great
PURPOSE: What you stand for and why you exist
The PURPOSE for your law career is why you exist and is the north-star that always guides everything that you do. Your purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning and gets you excited to go to work every day. Your purpose never changes, has no duration and lasts your entire career.
To find your purpose, you need to ask, “What do I stand for?” And remember, your employees want to have a purpose; salary only motivates up to a certain point. Get your employees to understand why you’re in business.
“Organizations should put more effort into identifying their purpose.”
Jim Collins, Built to Last
But it’s not easy figuring out exactly what you stand for and why you do what you do–it may take you days to figure out why you exist. The purpose for our law firm started as, “Providing Clear Answers to Complex Medical Malpractice Questions” and then I thought, “But why do we do that? Is this really the ultimate reason we practice law?” No!
Our purpose evolved to, “Raising the Standard of Care for All Patients”. Yuck! Way too technical and not exactly something that gets you out of bed on cold, dark mornings. This sounds more like a hospital’s slogan than the purpose for our plaintiffs’ medical malpractice firm. So we kept pushing the envelope to define why we exist.
When pushed harder to reflect on our “WHY”, there was only one thing that we kept coming back to, “Stopping Medical Injustice”. Bingo! Our purpose, “Stopping Medical Injustice”, is simple, clear and will remain our purpose for as long we’re open for business. This is “why” we exist as a law firm.
Do you have a big, bold purpose for your law firm? If not, it’s never too late to create your purpose (and put you ahead of 99% of everyone else). You will never be a great law firm without identifying your purpose and communicating it with your staff.
VALUES: Core Principles that Guide Everything you do
Your VALUES consist of 5-10 principles that you live by and guide all of the work you do. The duration of your values is forever. Your core values are essential and enduring tenets that will guide you and your team as long as you exist.
What are your core values? Just by way of example, our core values are:
- We limit our practice to catastrophic injury law for injury victims.
- We do not accept cases that have questionable merit.
- We accept very few cases.
- We always put our clients’ interests first.
- We treat our clients like family.
- We do the right thing.
- We do what we say we’ll do.
- We practice open, real communication.
- We check our egos at the door.
- We invest in continuous improvement.
These are the core values that will guide our law firm forever. But everyone is different. So you should begin thinking of the core values that will guide you and your law firm as long as you exist.
MISSION: Your “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal”
The mission is defined in 3 to 5 years and is specific enough that it can be checked off. This is your chance to inspire your people and is an opportunity to be bold (“Wow, that’s a big deal!”).
Do not make your vision to be a specific profit figure—your staff will not get excited about revenue numbers. You want your team to feel they are part of something much bigger than just another law firm. You are an elite law firm—not just a bunch of lawyers trying to scratch together a living. But to get to this special place, you must have a well-defined mission that is communicated to your team.
“To defy the odds, to take on big hairy challenges—especially if rooted in ideology—does much to make people feel that they belong to something special, elite, different, better.”
Jim Collins, Built to Last
You should not define your mission by what others are doing. This is a recipe for mediocrity. Doing what everyone else is doing is by definition average. You need a mission that is unique, bold and gives your team a higher sense of purpose than simply making money.
What is your Economic Engine?
In Jim Collins’s classic book, Good to Great, he explains that every great business must define its “economic engine”. Your economic engine is the economic denominator that makes you successful; it is your most profitable and sustainable business model. You should ask, “What is the source of your best cases and highest return on investment?”
By way of example, our “economic engine” is referrals from other lawyers (just like you). Since we don’t do mass marketing, our best cases are generated by new cases referred by lawyers. It’s simple—we don’t stay in business without your referrals. Now that it’s clear that our economic engine is lawyer referrals, our mission statement is simple:
“To be the #1 law firm for lawyers referring medical malpractice cases in Upstate New York.”
The question to ask is, “What you is your economic engine?” What makes you successful and is the most lucrative and profitable thing you do? Once you have this answer, you know what your “economic engine” is.
What is your Mission?
But it’s not enough to just have a mission statement, you should set big, bold goals that are consistent with your mission. We call these annual goals our “base camps”, i.e., annual goals that are specific and measurable that will take us to our ultimate goal at the peak of the mountain.
Here’s how we bring our mission statement into alignment with our goals. As of October 19, 2013, we had 124 “Referral Partners”. A “referral partner” is an attorney, paralegal or someone in the legal field (i.e., Executive Director of the Bar Association), who has referred a case to our law firm in the last five years. Our current MISSION is to increase the number of Referral Partners to 500 by October 19, 2017 (yes, our Mission is bold and a big stretch for us).
At every one-year interval, we have specific goals (called the “Base Camp”) that we must meet in order to reach the top of the mountain.
Base Camp #1: 2013 = 124 Referral Partners;
Base Camp #2: 2014 = 185 Referral Partners (+61);
Base Camp #3: 2015 = 265 Referral Partners (+80);
Base Camp #4: 2016 = 365 Referral Partners (+100); and
Base Camp #5: 2017 = 500 Referral Partners (+135)
You should post your numbers on a poster board or TV monitor and update them weekly. You communicate your mission to your team and update them on your progress in order to make them clear what you are trying to achieve.
It’s not enough that you know your mission—your team should too and they should be constantly reminded of what you are seeking to do. Because let’s face it, you’ll never get to the top of the mountain without your team being on board and pulling in the same direction.
Hiring, Training and Firing to the Vision
The purpose, values and mission must be more than just a founder’s statement. Once you draft your purpose, values and mission, you’re only 70% done. Your team members have to co-create your purpose, values and mission so you ask them to review them and make changes. The foundation for your law firm is a shared vision.
But it’s not enough to just have a vision for your law practice— you must reinforce your culture at every turn: hiring, training and firing. All employees must memorize the purpose, values and mission of your law firm. Before you interview prospective employees, you ask them to memorize your purpose, values and mission of your law firm and at the interview, ask her, “Okay, tell us what are the purpose, values and mission?” Now you know if you’ve got a serious candidate for the job.
Ideally, you can use the physical space of your law office to reinforce the purpose, values and mission, i.e., posting your purpose, values and mission in your conference and copy rooms. But don’t just stop with the physical office space, you can put your purpose on your letterhead, monthly newsletters and in the electronic signature of your emails. You want your purpose, values and mission to be everywhere so everyone knows what you stand for.
Does this sound hard? Well, it should and remember, “Life in a visionary company is not supposed to be easy.” Jim Collins, Built to Last.
How can we help you become more awesome?
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