I am near-sighted, which is really only useful for tying knots with fishing line or doing anything else that can be done within 18 inches of my face. I didn’t always know I was near-sighted. It wasn’t until I started driving that we discovered it. My mother was riding with me while I had my learner’s permit. She abruptly turned to me and asked, “Why didn’t you stop at that stop sign?”
I replied earnestly, “What stop sign?”
She didn’t miss a beat before announcing, “We are going to make you an eye appointment.”
It wasn’t until I walked out of that eye appointment that I discovered what I had been missing. I distinctly remember noticing that the leaves on distant trees had edges, rather than just being green, roundish mass. My vision wasn’t so bad that it was debilitating but it was limiting me in ways that I hadn’t appreciated.
Have a Vision for Your Law Practice
When we don’t have a vision for our law practices, we are limiting ourselves in ways that we may not appreciate. There are times we get so busy with our cases that we neglect marketing and developing relationships. We are so driven by the work at hand that we fail to set goals, act to achieve our goals, or otherwise map out of future.
Even at our busiest, we must make sure we are actively progressing toward having the practice we envision for ourselves. We cannot afford to allow our business to coast for prolonged periods. The time and energy lost in course correcting is more costly than the effort that goes into forging ahead on your intended path.
Does Your Firm Have a Vision or Mission Statement?
One of the best ways to do this is to take the time to think through and write down a mission or vision statement for your firm. Bplans.com helps businesses do this in five steps that I am going to adapt to apply specifically to lawyers:
Identify your ideal client.
Sit down and figure out who you want to serve, who you want to retain you to represent them. You can do this by understanding what your practice is and what it is not. While this exercise will not be an explicit part of your vision statement, it is imperative that you are self-effacing about your client’s identity to write an effective vision statement.
Define what your firm does for its clients.
Your clients need to know that you understand their problems and why you are the right choice for them. This part of your mission statement should be specific, rather than a generic claim that you want to seek justice for people. For example, here is a part of my firm bio that serves as a mission statement: “My priority is to collaborate with clients to achieve efficient and effective results by way of tenacious advocacy. I strive to align my tactics and objectives with my client’s goals in handling cases.”
Melissa Hall of Smol Law describes herself as a “primary care lawyer” and identifies her services like this: “Making ‘let me talk to my attorney’ a reality for people who have mostly seen it as a joke.”
In his mission statement, Tripp Watson of The Watson Firm addresses how he will add value for clients: “Our firm’s mission is to provide new and veteran entrepreneurs the advice and service that allows them to focus on building their business, without having to worry about the details of legal compliance, liabilities, or other distractions. Further, we strive to add value to our clients’ businesses by providing legal and business advice that contributes to the bottom line.”
Define what your firm does for its employees.
Of the three components of a mission statement, I suspect this is often the most overlooked. We know it’s important to identify and meet our clients’ needs, and we are certainly going to look out for ourselves (part 3). But what about the associates, staff, and paraprofessionals who play such an integral role in the success and productivity of our law practices? This section of your mission statement should set out what qualities are important for your firm’s employees to have and what kind of environment you want to cultivate. You may want to emphasize things like fairness, respect for ideas, creative problem-solving, or empowerment. In short, this should tell your employees what are the important attributes your firm wants to foster, and your actions and mindset should support the statement.
Establish what your firm does for its shareholders/partners.
What do you want from your practice — profitability, growth, peace of mind? Is it important to you that your relationships are rich or rewarding? Do you want to have partners with a particular mentality? Your mission statement set out (again with specificity) what you want from and for your business, stated in terms that are concrete enough for you to take affirmative actions to achieves them.
Analyze and revise your vision statement.
If I’ve learned anything from writing consistently over the past three years, it’s that you never get it exactly right on the first draft. In fact, most first drafts are poor representations of what you want to say and the importance of the first draft is that you’ve written everything down so that you can prune, shear, and spruce the contents as needed. Your vision statement is likely no different. This is the document that will enable you not only to have a vision for your practice but also will provide the specificity to execute the vision for sustained success. Take the time to ensure that it reflects your true values and communicates your message effectively.
Remember that being a good lawyer does not mean you are necessarily a good business person. You have to practice being good at business just like you practice improving your lawyering craft. Having a vision for your practice is an important part of being a better lawyer and one who is positioning herself to thrive.
Be a Hunter, Not a Scavenger
Tyrannosaurus Rex looks like a fierce predator. He is a universal favorite among children as their favorite dinosaur. But it turns out that T-Rex likely had bad eyesight and definitely had scrawny forearms. Scientists have discerned that his poor vision and limited reach relegated him to being a scavenger. He isn’t the apex predator that we have long imagined him to be. He just looks like one. He’s the reptilian equivalent of a vulture.
Don’t put yourself in the position of picking over the leavings of others. Have a vision for the direction of your law practice. Have the tenacity to execute your vision. Make opportunities for yourself by knowing what you want and having the audacity to achieve it.
Having a vision for your practice may not enable to you to survive a catastrophic meteor strike, but it will give you the tools to identify who you want to serve, how to market to them, and how to identify their problems. It will enable you to set S.M.A.R.T. goals that align with your mission and plan for the future success of your firm, rather than being limited to what is within 18 inches of your face.
Photo by mcdlttx.