I have talked with many owners of law firms and the most surprising thing I have found is that they cannot state what their vision is. Either they have trouble visualizing an ideal future or they just don’t have a vision in mind. The tendency is to focus on day to day problems and kind of hope that things will work out. Even their mission statements seem to be focused on very short term actions. Instead of a vision that leads to a mission which leads to some action plan, they have a set of random reactive action plans.
The problem I see with this approach is that they get down the road and get lost. They either end up in a mid-life crisis or they just burn out. I am all for modifying plans as you learn more, but I also believe you need some idea of where you want to go. I am not really sure why it is so hard to visualize the end result. When I talk with the law firm owner or potential owner I can usually find a vision buried there. That vision is rarely focused on practicing law, rather it is focused on a retirement dream or being a vehicle to make money to support some dream.
From all the conversations I have had there are two predominant visions that I find.
- The owner wants a large law firm with a good reputation, well respected in the community that is clearly connected with his or her name.
- The owner wants to use his skills as a lawyer to obtain wealth or residual income to support a lifestyle after retirement.
The vision is unique to the owner or the owners and respects their values and beliefs. It really does not make any difference to me if the vision was focused on making money or feeding the hungry. What I look for is some idea of expectation which I can use to form the mission statement. It is the mission statement that does all the work. This is what tells all the stakeholders in the law firm what you expect them to do.
The vision statement is created before the mission statement and communicates an ideal end result. It reflects your values and beliefs, and should inspire your team. A vision statement does not describe what the firm does, nor does it describe how the firm operates. A vision for the law firm is a picture of an ideal state in the future. The vision is the foundation for the mission, goals, and plans for your law firm.
I believe that the vision statement should be written in the present tense, as if the results wished for have already been realized. I would also include your values or beliefs in the vision statement. This will help you stay focused.
Now you can write a strategic plan and a mission statement to build your law firm. Our experience simply is this. More law firms than we care to admit fail to implement brilliant ideas or strategic plans because of a failure to execute. A good law firm leader, no matter what level of assigned interest in a project or the firm, will know that in the end it is all about the implementation of the plan. What we need to see to become successful are results. When we dig down into this lack of execution we generally find that the base plan is not clear. The implementers do not have a clear understanding of expectations. The action plan changes every day and there is no strategic plan or focus evident.
Start with a vision statement. Call it the definition of winning, a picture of an ideal future or your grand purpose but write it down. Now create a clear mission or set of missions if you have multiple teams that will realize that vision. Delegate to your team and let them execute the plan.
I would really be interested in seeing some of the vision statements that have been created out there. If you would like to share, just sent me an e-mail or attach as a comment. Confidentiality assured. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.