The Importance of Goalsetting for Your Law Practice
For each of the past three years, I’ve written about the importance of goalsetting. We’ve talked about what goals should look like, in that you need to be setting S.M.A.R.T. goals — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. And I’ve been transparent with you about how having written goals has been transformative for me in both my law and writing practices.
I have not met all the goals I’ve set. Far from it. Maybe I’ve met half of them. But I’m absolutely certain that having the goals, particularly the overly ambitious ones, has projected me further down the path of success than where I would have been otherwise. That’s the importance of goalsetting, that it drives you toward achieving a particular objective and obtaining results you want to accomplish.
Whether you experience the particular joy of meeting that goal within the time parameters you set can be inconsequential. You should look instead at what having the goal enabled you to accomplish that may not have been done without it.
The Importance of Goalsetting for Your Business
Rather than tell you more stories about my own goalsetting successes and failures, I have reached out to two other lawyers. I asked them about what goalsetting had enabled them to accomplish in 2019 and what they have in mind for 2020.
Chris Ambrose of Harvest Legal, Emporia, KS
I’ve known Chris for a couple of years now, and we have had innumerable conversations about the efforts he’s been making to grow his law practice. He’s taken specific steps to be more productive and delegate work to increase his efficiency. These measures have paid off by enabling him to become more profitable and have room for growth.
This past year I had set up in my practice management software some billing and time goals, which I’ve been able to keep. If anything I’ve underestimated them.
“Underestimated them” is and understatement. I can’t remember a month in 2019 in which Chris hasn’t met his billable goals well before the month is out. He’s able to track that because he set Specific and Measurable goals. Here’s what that is looking like for his year as a whole.
I will hit yearly goal by mid November. As it stands I’m 18% over my year to date goal as of today.
Chris has been able to do this while still spending tons of time with his growing family and doing competitive cycling (which he’s called a part-time job). Because he knows exactly what he wants to accomplish, Chris can do that without it having to come at the expense of his personal life.
With 2019 having gone so well, I asked Chris what he has in mind for 2020.
For next year, we have implemented some new task tracking tools to help me better stay proactively on top of stuff so I don’t accidentally fall behind due to the sheer amount of work I do. Also, I’ll be continuing my practice management goals with more billable hours, and continuing to train my assistant to lean on her further for helping me get rid of all the non-billable work I can. Finally, the last goal will be to work on content creation in a meaningful way and not be so wrapped up in the work I have that I don’t work on expanding my business still.
But his next sentences are the one that I found both most revealing and something I can absolutely identify with.
I’m thinking I’m going to up my billable goal by 11% next year. Part of me is anxious I won’t hit it.
Good! If you’re not setting goals that create some uncertainty, you’re not being ambitious enough. Your goals should scare you a little bit. The importance of goalsetting is that it stretches you beyond your comfort level. Bedros Keuilian has this to say about ambitious goalsetting: “If you aren’t scared, it means you’re in your comfort zone. It’s impossible to grow in your comfort zone, so now’s the time to go charging out of it. Because big thinking leads to big results.”
“Young Litigator” in the Wild West
If you aren’t following Young Litigator (@young_litigator) on Twitter, you are missing out on someone who has taken her practice by storm in a short time. She is transparent about both her good and bad experiences. And she is just exemplary in the ways she conducts herself and her law practice.
Knowing that YL had experienced in incredible 2019, I asked her to share what that had looked like.
When I started 2019, I looked at how my 2018 ended and what I could do to grow in the upcoming year. Still newly solo and not entirely sure how to measure those goals and growth, I looked mainly to my 2018 numbers (I started solo March 2018). I hired my full time paralegal in Sept 2018 and this is when I really started setting monthly minimums to meet instead of just flying by the seat of my pants.
I surpassed my first few months goals and continued that into 2019. Just trying to be a little better every month, being more cognizant of billable hours, and overall have a better monthly average for the full year revenue than the previous year.
But that doesn’t mean that the success she was experiencing came without any difficulties.
A hiccup I had in those goals was growing in office space. It was one of my priority goals for 2019 as I had outgrown the tiny space with a FT employee. Early on in the year I moved from a 1 office + reception suite to a 2 office + conference room + reception + supply closet/workroom suite. I had more than tripled in square footage, and it was in prime downtown district with other businesses.
The setback was that the expenses went up nearly 3x and added the expense of parking spaces, plus purchasing new furniture to fill the space, etc. So while I was steadily increasing my monthly revenues and I had met my goal of growing in space, I had the added expenses that were setting me back from making more take-home money.
After she ran into the problem, YL did exactly what she needed to to overcome it — she created a plan for her business and set goals.
To overcome this, I realized I couldn’t just do a little better each month than my 2018 average. I needed to grow exponentially. First, I set guidelines for my paralegal in billing each week. She had really just been doing a lot of non-billable admin work before that.
I set guidelines for myself in billing each week. I also increased my retainers for family law matters and only took those that could pay those higher retainers. This cut back on any outstanding unpaid bills. I also focused on advertising—where I should cut (I cut my monthly SEO package) and where I should spend (I added google ads for the first time, increased my Avvo boosts, and did a tv package). I focused on getting more contingency cases-PI and SSDI.
In 3 short months, I had so much new contingency business, I was turning a lot away. The little bit of advertising money was well spent.
At the end of the day, what has been the result of all this growth for YL?
Now, my 2019 monthly avg revenue is up 65% from last year. (While my expenses are up 33%.) So I’m still managing growth just in different terms. And in a new office I love that I can continue to grow in for 2020.
Have you started setting goals for 2020 yet?
It’s time to start thinking about 2020. Set your goals and identify the tactics that will help you accomplish those goals. Let this statement from Alyssa Gregory guide you in your goalsetting and planning for 2020:
Goal setting can be a great way to clarify your focus, measure progress and track achievements. And for the most successful among us, goals also present an opportunity to push the lines of your comfort zone and take calculated risks. The more you are willing to stretch and challenge yourself, the more you have to gain over the long term. Creating a plan for this growth in the form of long- and short-term goals, a business plan or even single targeted tasks can help your business reach new levels of success.
The importance of goalsetting is that your goals serve as fixed points that help you navigate your year and instruct the decisions you make for your business. Start planning now to give yourself the greatest likelihood of success. And don’t be timid about being ambitious.