By John Grant, Attorney
The Mission domain, sometimes expanded to Mission, Vision, and Values, should be the North Star of your operation. It is why you have a law practice to begin with—your declaration of purpose—and it should both encapsulate and permeate who you are as a business.
I’m always surprised at the number of lawyers I meet who either don’t have a mission statement (about 75% by my unofficial polling), or who wrote something at some point but haven’t looked at it since.
I’m also surprised at the number of lawyers who dismiss having a mission statement as “a marketing thing.” First off, ignore those “marketing things” at your own peril. But, more importantly, limiting your notion of Mission to one part of your business is dangerously siloed.
I’m also surprised at the number of lawyers who dismiss having a mission statement as “a marketing thing.” First off, ignore those “marketing things” at your own peril. But, more importantly, limiting your notion of Mission to one part of your business is dangerously siloed.
Yes, one role of your Mission is to attract customers. But its most important job—the one that too many people miss—is to both inspire and focus your own behavior.
A good mission statement should get at answers to at least two questions:
- Who do we serve?
- What are the problems they have that we help solve?
Some mission statements go on to answer other questions (How? Why?), but only the first two are strictly necessary.
Instead of diving into details, it is far more important that your statement resonate at all levels of your organization. Specifically, a good mission statement should work for:
- You (and any other firm owners or team leaders),
- Your team members, and
- Your customers.
That means something like “Our mission is to make a pile of money for me and my partners by doing legal work for anyone who wants it” isn’t gonna cut it.
Let’s look at a few mission statements that I think are clear, inspiring, and empowering:
- Nike’s mission statement is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
- WeWork’s mission is to “Create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living.”
- Airbnb: “Belong anywhere.”
- Slack: “Making work simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.”
- Lyft: “Our mission is to reconnect people through transportation and bring communities together.”
- Palace Law: “Our mission is to provide justice for the injured in every community”
- Modern Law: “Our mission is to utilize innovation and technology to offer clients unique and customized legal services.”
I won’t go into detail about every little thing I like about these, but I’ll mention three things they have in common.
First, they’re memorable: I can recite most off them off the top of my head, and I don’t even work there.
Next, they’re visionary. As I mentioned at the top of this post, a vision statement is sometimes a separate and complimentary thing to the Mission, but that doesn’t mean your mission statement shouldn’t aim high. “Every athlete in the world.” “Create a world.” “Every community.” They aren’t targets that those businesses will ever hit, but that isn’t the point. By aiming high, they, and their customers, will be better for the trying.
Last, they’re personal. They reflect the identity of the business and the customers they are trying to serve. Put another way, they don’t look like they were spit out by a mission statement generator.
Which gets me to the second biggest problem I see with lawyer mission statements: they don’t say anything special. (The biggest is not having one). I’m not going to name names, because I applaud any law firm that actually has articulated and promotes their Mission. But most of the ones that I see are pablum.
Take, for example, this firm’s. They display it prominently on their website and even include photos of it posted prominently around the office (something I strongly recommend). But the statement itself is pretty bland:
“Our mission is to help clients achieve their goals by providing high quality, ethically sound legal counsel and strategic advice. We work with clients to understand their objectives, resolve current issues and proactively anticipate and prevent future problems. We are committed to delivering efficient and cost-effective legal services with a focus on communication, responsiveness, and attention to detail.“
In other words, our mission is to be lawyers. Full stop. Nothing here differentiates this firm from any other law firm in the world.
This happens to be a mid-sized regional firm focusing on business law. Without knowing anything else about the firm or the attorneys who work there, I’d like to see something like:
“Our mission is to guide tri-state businesses through the risks and uncertainties of the legal landscape so that they can pursue their goals with confidence.”
Now this isn’t exactly specific to the firm in question, but at least it’s pithy. And it is framed from the perspective of the customer; reading it, a new client should come away with the notion that “I will have a guide, and that guide will help me meet my goals.” Seems to me like a better feeling than “I’m going to be working with a bunch of generic lawyers who will do lawyer stuff.”
Or take this one:
“Our mission is to provide professional and trusted legal services that assist businesses and non-profit organizations in operating sustainably. We provide expert legal counsel in combination with our own business backgrounds, and deliver valuable services in a timely and cost-effective way. We also live by what we preach—both inside our firm and in our community—by implementing sustainable business practices in every possible way, to help us, and our clients, to become driving forces toward a new economy.”
Here, the impulse is correct, but let’s edit that sucker. Maybe approach it like an entrepreneur: what if you had to pitch an investor on this business? I, for one, would be more likely to buy-in if they used something like:
“Our mission is to empower socially responsible businesses with dependable legal guidance, and to forge a sustainable path to prosperity for our clients and their communities.”
Here’s a rough rule-of-thumb: If you can’t tweet your mission statement, you probably still have work to do. (Especially with the new 280 character limit).
Finally, a good mission statement should suggest some ways to measure whether or not you’re on track to succeed at your Mission. These will be your Goals, and they will be the subject of the next post in this series.
In the mean time, as you can probably tell, I love this stuff. If you’re interested in talking with me about your own Mission, or about improving any other aspect of your organization, please don’t hesitate to start a conversation with me. I’ve helped dozens of law firms and legal teams—both new and established—set a solid foundation for profitability, efficiency, and sustainable growth, and I’d love to help yours too.
To date, the common #legaltech narrative has been a drumbeat of anxiety about robot overlords taking over the legal profession.
On the one hand, we are told AI and automation will “free up lawyers’ time to perform higher-level, more intellectually satisfying work which clients would be willing to pay for.” (This platitude is generally advocated by most legal tech companies to soften the blow that AI and automation will have on the legal profession.) On the other hand, news articles pronounce how robots are on the march to replace lawyers wholesale. (Fear helps to sell media advertising.)
Both are wrong.
The first narrative is wrong because higher level analytical work will also not be safe from AI and automation. In AI circles, there’s a concept called Moravec’s paradox.
Coined by Hans Moravec, Rodney Brooks and Marvin Minsky in the 1980s, the paradox is the discovery that, contrary to traditional assumptions, high-level reasoning requires very little computation, but low-level sensorimotor skills require enormous computational resources. In other words, as Moravec wrote, “it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.”
This is why computers have been so successful in beating humans in Checkers, Chess, Jeopardy and Go. Just this week, a Google voicebot called Google Duplex fooled real people into thinking it was a real person calling to book a table at a restaurant and schedule an appointment at a salon. Higher level work won’t be far behind.
The second narrative is wrong because not everything lawyers do lends itself to the application of AI and automation. Also, on a nitpicky side note, there are not yet any actual robots coming for professional jobs. C-3PO in a tie and a briefcase will have to wait.
There is a third point of view that is missed in this discussion: Bots can help us to be more fully expressive, empathetic and human.
I know. It sounds counter-intuitive, right? How can machine make me more human? Doesn’t artificial intelligence, by its very nature, make intelligence itself something that is no longer special and unique, but a replicable commodity?
Yes, but.. what AI taketh away, it giveth as well.
By focusing on the logical, analytical, left brain aspects of intelligence, AI gives us the space to focus more of our time and energy on creative, emotional, right brain intelligence.
A great example of a law firm that uses the right brain approach is Billie Tarascio’s Modern Law. By systematizing the intake process, Billie can focus her family law firm’s energies on connecting with the potential new client emotionally, listening to their story, empathizing, and being there. This smartly accommodates the needs of the client who, when presented with divorce, fight over child custody or both, is in crisis and needs a helping hand and attentive ear. This approach also works from a business standpoint; as it turns out, more clients retain Modern Law because of it. Clients feel validated and heard.
There is a reason lawyers are referred to as attorneys and counselors at law.
The AI revolution will encourage us to embrace our right brain identity as counselors and provide our clients with the soft attention they need. It may take some getting used to, but this is the value we can offer clients that automation can’t.
[I want to thank Megan Zavieh for an awesome podcast interview that helped me to crystallize these thoughts into something bordering on coherent.]
On a cold Tuesday afternoon, just three years after I graduated from law school, I heard code red called in the ER. The code was for me. I was 30 seconds from death: veins collapsed, no blood pressure, 30 pounds under weight, metabolic acidosis prevailed, 32 ounces of blood lost daily, and no ability to sit upright or walk. I was 28 years old and knew nothing about how my reactions cause outcomes. Not knowing almost killed me. Years of stress and anger had taken their toll.
Two decades after code red was called, I’ve finally learned that negative: thinking, acting, behaving, and images physically weakens us and positive: thinking, acting, behaving, and images strengthen us. My adrenal glands, which produce cortisol to respond to stress, had exhausted themselves. My adrenal cortexes were dead and so was I, nearly. The emergency room doctor later reported to a mutual friend that he was sure I was going to die.
At that time, I had no vision of what my life could be or how I would come to impact future estate planning clients and now attorneys, their firms, and their lives. Understanding, absorbing, and living success principles will change your life as they have mine.
Sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo? That’s up for you to decide for yourself, but don’t hold colleagues back when you see them thrive because you don’t get it – yet. Living within success principles will empower you to take charge of your life and your firm, helping you to create what you want – and ultimately help more people.
The Principle of 100% Self-Responsibility
Event + Reaction = Outcome is the fundamental success principle formula that will impact your life most. It’s foundational and essential. After all, if you’re responsible, you’re in control and can determine the outcome. Taking 100% responsibility for your life is empowering.
Events are just the way things are. You can’t control what happens to you (the economy, death in the family, illness, tax hike, traffic jam, gender bias, etc.), but you can control your response to those events which means you can control the outcome.
Lack of Awareness
Back in the days I described above, I created my own stress level and plummeting health by the way I reacted to events.
- For example, during my first year of law school, my then boyfriend was a college senior, my (soon-to-be) mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and my (soon-to-be) father-in-law died two weeks later after her diagnosis. I ruminated on and exacerbated the fallout from those events over-and-over again for several years.
- At the same time, my mother went off the deep end into some undiagnosed mental illness, becoming toxic. I allowed myself to be manipulated for years instead of separating myself from her.
- Did I mention I was in my first year of law school at the time? I reacted to that as you likely did.
I couldn’t control these events and at the time didn’t know I could control my response. Now that I own my reactions and take 100% responsibility for my life, I can control my responses and, thus, I control outcomes. This means the nasty neighbor, the financial challenges of two children in private colleges, the XYZ, and the ABC no longer get to me.
Do I have my moments? Of course! I haven’t transformed into Mother Teresa or Gandhi, not even close. But, I’m sooooo much better at responding as I choose, rather than emotionally bursting as I have in the past. Being able to respond as I choose is life-changing.
3 Responses You Can Control
In the entire world, you can only control three responses:
- Your behavior aka actions, which includes what you say as well as how you say it
- Your thoughts, including self-talk and beliefs
- The visual images you hold in your mind
You create your own experiences by how you react to both opportunities and challenges. What’s cool is this means you get to control your life, the quality of your relationships, workload, income, and health by controlling your behavior, thoughts, and the visual images you hold.
We’ve all seen the statistics for lawyers – high drug, alcohol, depression, unhappiness, and divorce rates. We score much higher than the general population. Why? I suggest self-imposed pressures. We feel trapped with a long list of things we think we “have” to do and another list of things we think we “can’t” do.
- I submit you would be well served by substituting the word for “choose to” for every “have to” or “must.” You don’t have to do anything. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; there will be consequences of not doing something, of course. But there’s still a choice, and that’s dang empowering. For example, “I have to go to that committee meeting tonight” versus “I choose to go to that committee meeting tonight.” Feel the difference?
Try another one, I have to keep practicing family law versus I choose to keep practicing family law.
- Next, replace “can’t” with “choose not to” and observe how that feels. For example, “I can’t take Friday afternoons off versus “I choose not to take Friday afternoons off.”
What about this one? “I can’t make $500,000 a year” versus “I choose not to make $500,000 a year.” Yes, you even have a choice about how much money you make.
When we aren’t taking 100% responsibility for our lives. Many of us feel trapped, overworked, and unhappy in the work we’re doing. We feel angry at opposing counsel or lousy clients or feel frustrated by our own failures or limitations because we have no idea how to run and build a successful law firm business.
Images Make It Real
When you visualize over-and-over again a fight with your spouse or opposing counsel, your body doesn’t identify any difference between when you’re in a fight (and cortisol needs to come to the rescue) and when you’re driving home, picturing the fight as well as what you wish you had said. That’s how your body gets exhausted. Cortisol comes to the rescue even when you’re just imagining the fight.
Will you develop primary adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s Disease) like I did? Not likely. Your body and mind will break down where your weakness lies – maybe depression, anxiety, alcoholism, or disease.
Self-Responsibility as Empowerment
This isn’t a doom and gloom diagnosis. You are not doomed to be miserable or doomed to be diseased. Personal responsibility is personal empowerment. You create your future through your reactions: your behavior, thoughts, and visual images. There’s no judgment from me and I encourage you to eliminate any self-judgment or self-blame – and separate yourself from those you judge you.
Choose self-responsibility. Consider that you always have a choice; you are never trapped. For example, there are thousands of people who have taken situations like your own and succeeded but not just succeeded, they’ve prospered. What’s the difference between those folks and you? Thinking, actions, and the pictures in your head. Change those things, you change your life and law firm.
Law Business Strategist Wendy Witt, JD practiced trusts and estates law for 15 years. She helps attorneys think entrepreneurially, increase revenue, and create the law firm/life they love. You can find out more at AttorneyAlchemy.com; you can reach Ms. Witt at Wendy@AttorneyAlchemy.com
by Lori Owens
As reported in the ABA Journal, attorneys have higher depression rates and more stress than the average American. At our own Elevate conference, this past year, Wendy Newman Glantz de-mystified emotional intelligence and provided concrete tips for lawyers to improve both their person and work lives as outlined here. Following on that theme, I had the pleasure of attending a session on succession planning presented by Roy S. Ginsburg to all LegalShield provider attorneys this past fall.
Briefly, Roy’s goal as a legal strategic advisor is to “help lawyers become more successful and satisfied in their careers.” Roy used quotes on many of his slides which helped to frame the discussion and I have included those below as headings. (A bit more information on lawyer and coach, Roy Ginsburg: Roy has spent more than 30 years practicing law in both private practice and as in-house counsel, and currently runs a successful part-time solo practice. You can reach Roy here for more information.)
I will first focus on why lawyers need to have a succession plan and what retirement is today and then will dive into how to retire, including some tips on selling your practice.
I thought some of the reasons why lawyers fail when it comes to planning for retirement were interesting and should be highlighted first:
- Only thing that is considered is the dollars needed retire;
- Or in other words, think with enough money, all will be fine;
- Believe this life of leisure will be fun and satisfying;
- 62% disagree on timing for retirement; 33% disagree on retirement lifestyle; and
- Many are overwhelmed by family issues.
“Failure to plan is planning to fail.” J. Wooden
This quote was an overall theme within Roy’s presentation. Looking at the statistics on our aging population is mind boggling. The American Bar Association (ABA) estimates that 400,000 baby boomer lawyers will retire over the next decade and a half. Over the next almost twenty years, 10,000 people will turn 65 years old each and every day. Also, Roy mentioned that each sixty-five-year-old has on average a twenty-year life expectancy.
Many lawyers scoff at the idea of retiring at the traditional age and envision practicing well into their twilight. However, it may be in your best interest and that of your clients and firm to retire when you are at the top of your game. Regardless, a succession plan needs to be well thought out and start several years prior to actual retirement.
When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em – Kenny Rodgers
All good things must end and in simple terms, it’s important to decide if it’s time. However, also consider that if you wait too long, you may risk your retirement years. Roy mentioned that among those 65 or older, 25% experience memory loss; 20% have a serious illness; and 20% struggle with depression. However, finances play a large role in any decision to stop working. This again, reminds us to do an inventory of our financial resources plus health insurance; social security; and estate planning. Also, it’s important to decide if it’s really time by taking stock as follows:
- How is your physical health?
- How is your mental health; do you have the same passion?
- How is your significant others’ or family member health?
- Is it time to give back in the form of pro-bono or a career shift?
- Do you desire more family time or wish to spend more time on hobbies, rest, or relaxation?
Further to the last two points, some wonder how they will replace work because it’s more than just something to do. For those who have left a firm or taken a leave, your sense of identity and purpose is wrapped up in your career. Many need the mental stimulation and social interaction, not to mention the challenge of the law plus the routine or structure associated with a daily trip to the office or court. For others, the idea of leaving by retiring means losing all this plus a reduction in compensation, social status and clout, or in some cases, retirement can be seen as political suicide.
“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag
Shifting gears, there are many exciting idea for retirement as Roy outlined below. However, regardless of your age, you may wish to check-in on your level of addiction to work. For example, are you glued to your smartphone or tablet all week and into the weekend? Do you take vacations, and if yes, are they more than a few days? Roy recommends that retirement is practiced so you can choose from these activities:
- Earn an Honest Living: Alternative dispute resolution; politics; adjunct professor; entrepreneurship or small business; or write.
- Relax: Travel or be a couch potato; spend time with family & friends; go back to school; exercise to maintain your health and so on.
- Volunteering: At any of the following – clinics, shelters, bar associations, social services, civic organizations, continuing legal education, SCORE, education or youth services, cultural, sports, or arts. The list is endless!
Everyone must eventually retire and therefore, regardless of your management responsibilities, planning is needed to minimize the impact on the firm. Finding your successor requires time and training. Remember the reasons above why lawyers flunk retirement – overall those attorneys that pass, retire to something, not from something. I will now move from the why of retirement into the planning for leaving the law, including some tips on divesting your firm.
“The time to put on a new roof is when the sun is shining.” John Kennedy
As discussed above, those who are ready to retire have usually created financial stability and an identity above and beyond work. Once the decision is made, then a whole new list of action items is required. However, first a few decisions are needed in terms of your succession planning:
- Are you closing your practice?
- Are you retiring and leaving the firm to other partners?
- Will you entertain a buy-out by an internal successor or a buy-in from outsider?
- Will you sell to a competitor or merge your firm with another?
If this seems like a daunting list, that is okay as there are professionals to help you and also this is a long-term strategy as outlined below. Business brokers and consultants can help you advertise your firm and you can also use your own network to look for a potential buyer.
There is certainly less stress when you are retired but what if you still wish to work with clients? You can consider stepping down as partner to alleviate the management headache and still serve your clients. However, that might not be a good fit if there is a shift in firm culture. Or perhaps you may not wish to relinquish control over and work for someone else again at the end of your career.
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Abraham Lincoln
The value of a law firm is with the clients and the revenue stream. As you plan to either sell or retire, it’s important to review the plan for client transition to ensure that there is minimum disruption within the firma and amongst your clients. This should include the use of customer relationship management (CRM) and practice management systems to gather the information on clients’ billing history; future legal needs; and the relationship over the years.
A multi-phase and multi-year succession approach was discussed as follows:
Phase One (Years 1-3): Think of this as probation for you and your successor as responsibilities shift and you spend time training. There is still time to back out if you change your mind in this phase. Your goal is to test that you have picked the correct person to take your place.
Phase Two (Years 4-6): At this point, you are starting to scale back and will work less and start to receive payments as your clients that are transitioned to your successor.
Phase Three (Years 7-9): This is the tipping point where you will start to receive significant payments for your share of the clients as you are exiting. The marketplace will generally define a fair price for those payments.
The above deal is your compensation and you should structure your payout over time but the sooner this process is mapped out and initiated, the better. Please note that the years are just estimates and certainly the process can be shorter or longer. Remember, each deal is different.
Interested in learning more about topics like this while earning CLE? Join us at our second Elevate by LegalShield on June 28-30th, 2018, more information here.
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You know why I’m super excited about the GLSA/GPSolo conference in New Orleans?
Well, first off, it’s taking place in New Orleans! C’mon, that’s really a perk. I had the pleasure of visiting the Big Easy for the first time last Fall. It certainly captured my imagination with the atmospheric jazz music, historic architecture of St. Charles Avenue, St. Louis Cathedral, gumbo, beignets, and its friendly, welcoming people. But, it left me wanting for more!
The GLSA/GPSolo 2018 Joint Spring Conference promises to be an event brimming with educational and fun activities. If you missed my podcast with a Preview of the GLSA/GPSolo 2018 Joint Spring Conference, you really need to listen to it. Several conference speakers and panelists, Nicole Abboud, Matt Hahne, Aastha Madaan, and Ibrahima Seck, and Tom Martin (that’s me) share their insights about how to make the conference really work for you.
Slated for April 25 through April 28th, there will be FOUR full days of programming, beginning with a field trip Wednesday morning and ending with a Saturday afternoon post-conference workshop on building your business through podcasting.
- Food, parties, Bywater and French Quarter pub crawls, and other networking events aplenty, including a po’ boy/crawfish lunch and a Welcome Reception at Pat O’Briens on the Mississippi River
- CLE’s presented by the leading voices and emerging influencers in legal services. Learn about legal plan administration, access to justice efforts, user experience design, video marketing and branding, cutting-edge law office technologies, hot topics in solo and small firm, substantive law, special ethics and trustee issues, and more from nearly 70 speakers including Nicole Abboud (The Gen Why Lawyer), Riyad Bacchus (Sykes), Jean Clauson (ARAG), Dina Eisenberg (Outsource Easier), Sam Glover (The Lawyerist), Mary Juetten (Traklight), Alan Klevan (Summit Law Practice Solutions), Aastha Madaan (Madaan Law), Tom Martin (LawDroid), Stephen Mogila (Slevin & Hart P.C.), Rinky Parwani (Florida Legal Insurance), Nick Rishwain (LegalTech Live), Allen Rodriguez (ONE400), and Bryan Wilson (The Texas Law Hawk).
- Offsite educational programs that allow you to explore vibrant NOLA neighborhoods and enjoy adventure travel in the Louisiana countryside
- Private appointments allowing you to meet administrators from new and familiar legal plans and solicit their advice on growing your business through legal plan panel work
That’s 20+ hours of MCLE credits and some of the most interesting topics by some of the most vibrant minds and innovators in the legal industry! Download our current schedule of events.
New Orleans also offers a great opportunity to learn more about our American heritage. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will be happening. There will also be a field trip to plantations, including the Whitney Plantation, the first slavery museum in the US, led by Research Historian Ibrahima Seck.
I’m also (of course) looking forward to seeing friends from the far flung reaches of the country and catching up with what they have done and what they are working on. It’s amazing how events like this bring like-minded, engaged people together.
I really do hope to see you there. It’s gonna be a blast!
Remember, the the ABA-GPSolo/GLSA 2018 Joint Spring Meeting in New Orleans is happening April 26 through April 28th! If you haven’t registered yet, you need to register now by going to GLSAOnline.org and clicking on the tab for the 2018 conference.
Save $100 if you register before April 11th!!
With details of programs spanning many of New Orleans’ neighborhoods – and the nearby countryside – our brochure for the ABA-GPSolo/GLSA 2018 Joint Spring Meeting will make you wish you could fast forward to April 25, 2018! Consider it your guide to the city charms, CLE programs, networking opportunities, and special events sure to make this conference one of your best investments in business and pleasure ever.
Anyone with an interest in law technology, legal plans, marketing opportunities, solo and small firm practice, hot substantive law topics, or four magical days and nights in the city celebrated as “the Paris of the South” is encouraged to join us April 25th through 28th in and around the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel. Although telephone and paper mail registration options are available, we encourage you to sign up online for the conference and its special events – which colleagues, family and friends of conference registrants can attend for a la carte prices. Registration by April 12th guarantees you GLSA’s early bird registration rate of $350 for members and $450 for non-members. Guest passes – which include most food and beverage events but do not include CLEs – are also available for $175.
We look forward to creating memories with you at our conference and at the concurrent NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival just under two months from now!
The Staff at GLSA
312 988 5752