Around this time I set aside a few days to do some “strategic planning” for my practice – right before the end of the year – usually a time for reflection and preparation for the new year and what’s next. So I decided to share with you some of the insights regarding what’s next and invite you to share your thoughts on this topic.
Why ask the question NOW?
Are you thinking of retirement? Or are you tired of the legal practice? Or do you want to move into a new legal practice area to give yourself a new challenge or because the market demands it? Do you want to grow your practice but nothing seems to work?
As attorneys we are in a new age of various challenges to our profession like never before – competition is coming from different areas and even looks different – from Watson and Artificial Intelligence for electronic discovery, etc. to Legal Zoom and Legal Hero for virtual replacement of personal services. Then we can add to the mix the low bar passing rates and the increase in new non-legal programs (such as a Masters in Intellectual Property) in law schools trying to make up tuition losses from low enrollment.
As attorneys, the perception is that we are expensive – but we paid our dues to be at that level didn’t we? Three years (or more) of law school, passing state bar examinations, going through the associate route at Big Law or building a legal practice from scratch – each day learning and acquiring experience to better serve our clients. The other perception is that when we get involved it means trouble and someone is going to lose. Part of that comes form the adversarial nature of what we do. I spend a lot of time cultivating the message that I can be a team member, a positive contributor to my client’s bottom line before trouble rears its ugly head.
As I look at the approaching year I have started questioning how can I do this better? How can I keep growing my practice, serve my clients, and pay my bills? And truth be said take a nice vacation every once in a while to prevent burn out. My business sense says I need to find a new business model. My economic sense says I still have to pay the bills. My legal sense says I have to protect myself and make enough to pay the professional liability insurance. My marketing sense says I have to give my clients value that they will pay for. My personal sense says I’m tired thinking of how to balance all these senses – oh. And what about family time?
As I go through the strategic planning process I begin with remembering what happened this past year – what were the highs and the lows? Did my practice grow? What new clients do I have? Which clients have I lost? Why did they go? What opportunities did I not take advantage of? Did I partner or collaborate with anyone? Did I end a partnership or collaboration? Why? Do I want to continue to partner or collaborate? Did I move offices? Did I add new technology? Did I enjoy my year? Am I burnt out? What lessons did I learn?
I tend to write out a personal and professional development plan for each new year with goals, strategies, deadlines, and evaluation measures. I review it and see if I met the goals, why or why not? Were the goals unreasonable? Was I lazy? Was I easily distracted? Did I surpass the goals? What strategies worked for me? What didn’t? What did I spend the most money, time, resources on? Was it worth it?
Then I look forward. I start a new plan with new goals – even if I am bringing the goal from a previous year it is still new for this year coming up. I always include professional development. Some people call this Continuing Legal Education (CLE) – something they are required to do by their bar association. I look at it as professional development – a way to keep myself up to date and relevant in my practice area. What books should I read, which blogs to review, what trainings I want to complete, who do I want to meet, etc.?
I go through my contacts – my address book, my email directory, my social media contacts, connections, followers and fans. I make notes of who to reach out to and why; send emails, holidays cards, etc.; delete or “unfriend” those that I do not connect with or have reason to; throw out business cards, etc. I clean the clutter to focus on relationships that matter or can matter to my goals, including being a happy attorney and a nice person.
I review my schedule. I’m sure you already have things laid out for the new year. Some things that are reoccurring – certain organizational meetings for example – are automatically added. But I also put birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations, and holidays. My day is not always all business. Are there things I can delete? Meetings I do not need to go? Or are their organizations I need to become more involved with and need to commit time to? Can I afford that time? I limit myself to one non-profit every year to assist in terms of legal pro bono. I do my part but I am not overwhelmed. I know that when I get overwhelmed then I don’t want to assist anyone. And part of my value system is to help.
I go through a process similar to the above every year. Some years there is more to it because I know what may be coming in the new year. Some years it is sketchier and I have to take a wait and be flexible approach. But each year, this process also gives me confidence that I’m ready for whatever happens next. Even if I’m not. It’s all perception, right?