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LAWBIZ COACHES CORNER: Shared goals equal shared success

Ed Poll is a speaker, author and board-approved coach to the legal profession. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com. Also visit his interactive community for lawyers at www.LawBizForum.com.

Law firms are comprised of people who do not necessarily have the same goals in mind. Thus, it is important to get together to discuss individual ideas of goals so that everyone can get on the same page for the benefit of the firm.

Law firm goals typically include topics such as firm size, revenue/profits desired, personnel size, firm image, practice areas and type of clients.

The smaller the firm, the more intertwined the personal goals of the lawyer and the goals of the firm become.

For the individual lawyer to endorse the firm’s goals, those goals must also support the individual’s goals. It works both ways. Let’s say that the majority of a firm’s four partners believe that their mission is to help the indigent and the needy. Does that mesh with the desires of Lawyer A, who has a large family and who is concerned only with taking home the largest draw or salary possible? Probably not, and eventually the partnership will have to resolve the conflict.

It is important to find out in the planning stage whether the personal goals of the principals are consistent with the firm’s goals. The two need not be the same, but they cannot be in conflict with each other.

Approach this goal-setting procedure in two parts. First, have each lawyer and staff member answer a list of thought-provoking questions about themselves personally and about themselves professionally. This should be done before the first planning meeting.

The purpose is to get the participants to start thinking about their goals and how they fit into the bigger picture of the firm. The answers to the questions are to remain personal—that is, no disclosure to the other participants. People should be encouraged to share this process with their families or others closely involved in their lives since they have something at stake here, too. Solo practitioners especially will want to consult their spouses or significant others since unknown or contrary goals can quickly lead to tension and conflict in a relationship.

Then, have the same individuals answer questions about the firm itself. By thinking about and answering these questions (questions can be added or subtracted as needed), each person will give some thought to the major areas of concern to the firm so that when the whole group first meets to delineate and refine the company’s goals, the groundwork will have been done.

The priority, then, of the group’s first meeting is to agree on the firm’s goals. Simply go topic by topic down the firm questionnaire; discuss the various responses and opinions; and write the final, agreed-upon goal statements. If you need more than one meeting to do this, so be it. Everyone needs to understand and agree on the firm’s goals before you can proceed. However they are framed, the goals belong to you and the firm. They are your future.

By going through this procedure, you will quickly discover if you and your partners see eye to eye on the direction of the firm. Only when the big picture of your practice’s goals is clearly defined can you take advantage of the opportunities that will inevitably come along to move you down the road to success. And because of this planning process, you will tend to become more focused; and once focused, you will be more likely to see and understand and take advantage of the opportunities that pass in front of you.

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