n law school, we are all taught the importance of a roadmap. Although we use this helpful tool in our writing, we often fail to apply it to our professional development. Goal planning is a useful exercise for lawyers, but how many of us actually take the time to put pen to paper and map out where we want to go?
Here are my thoughts on the importance of strategic visioning and suggestions to help you develop a goal plan that is individually tailored to your practice.
What does a goal plan do?
Goal planning is just what it sounds like — it is an exercise that helps you define and achieve goals in your professional life. To start this exercise, ask yourself: where am I? Next, ask yourself: where do I want to go? Finally, ask yourself: how am I going to get there?
I started a solo practice in fall 2017. One of the first things I did was to devote some time to making a goal plan for 2018. Taking the time to think through where I was, where I wanted to be in a year, and how I wanted to make that happen was especially helpful in this time of transition and new beginning.
What are the benefits of goal planning?
The great thing about making a goal plan is that it is completely personalized to you. I work part-time from my home in a small town. My goals and plans to achieve them will look very different from those of someone who practices in Denver in a large firm and wants to make partner in the next year. A good plan will reflect and help you clarify your values, priorities, circumstances and desires.
A goal plan will tie together separate and more detailed plans. As part of your professional development, you may have made a financial plan or marketing plan. Both of these plans specifically target one aspect of your practice and provide detailed instructions or action items related to that area. These are supplements to a goal plan, not a replacement for it. Achieving goals often requires planning on multiple fronts: a goal may have a financial component and rely on marketing to achieve it.
A goal plan also functions as an achievement marker. As you achieve the goals you’ve identified, mark them off and celebrate these milestones. At the end of the year, your goal plan is a measure of how far you’ve come and what you still need to work on. You might even schedule a quarterly or semiannual review. As I write this, the first quarter of 2018 is coming to a close, and I have carved out some time to review my goal plan. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how many goals I was able to cross off and how many goals I made substantial progress towards in the first three months of the year.
How do I write a goal plan?
First, identify the areas of your professional life that you want to focus on in the next six months or a year. I chose a few substantive practice areas that I wanted to develop. I also included a few related professional interests, such as coordinating with my local bar association and pro bono targets. For me, three to five broad areas was a good start.
Second, set goals within each area. I like the mnemonic S-M-A-R-T goals. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely goals.
Be specific in your goal setting. For example, one of my goals is to “do one pro bono appeal through the Colorado Bar Association Pro Bono Appeals Program.” By specifically identifying your goals, you can break them into their constituent components, appropriately measure progress towards achievement, and prioritize different goals.
When you review your goal plan at the end of the quarter or year, you should be able to measure whether you’ve achieved your goals. Here, it may be helpful to use quantitative, rather than qualitative, criteria. This might read, “brief and argue three cases before the Colorado Supreme Court or Court of Appeals” or “bring in 10 new clients.” At the end of the year, I can measure whether I have achieved that goal or can measure my progress towards reaching that goal.
Goals should be achievable. I like the bulk of my goals to be ones that are within my reach (or should be based on the methods I’ve identified to achieve them) but are not necessarily already things that I am confident of achieving. They’re goals, after all. This isn’t a to-do list or a regurgitation of prior accomplishments.
I also like to include a few “stretch goals.” These are goals that I would like to achieve but might be a little far out of my grasp — for now. I like to use a range and set the upper end as my “stretch goal.” For example, I might set a goal to mediate five to 12 disputes in the next year. At the upper end of the range, that’s one mediation a month. This might not be immediately feasible as I develop a new practice area, but it is not patently unattainable.
Focus your time and energy on relevant goals. I have many goals in my life, as broad as “travel more” and as specific as “learn how to knit.” Although those are great goals, they do not have much relevance in my professional life. It is certainly possible that a goal might touch on both your personal and professional life, such as “make more time to spend with the kids.” That is fine, but keep your goals focused on things that are applicable to your law practice.
Identify timely goals. I goal plan for a year at a time, and many of my goals can be achieved within that time. Some goals, particularly your “stretch goals,” may take longer to achieve. You should identify long-term goals, but break those goals into constituent parts that can be achieved on a shorter time scale.
Third, think about how you will achieve your goals. I break this into three parts: resources, networking, and marketing.
For each goal, identify what resources you need to achieve the goal. Are these resources something you already have or do you need to get them? Are there free resources out there or do you need to pay for them? For example, if your goal is to be certified or competent in a particular area, resources could include books, courses, or CLEs on the subject.
Be sure to include networking in your methodology. Essentially, this is “who do I know?” and “who do I want to know?” Identify the people in your life who can help you achieve your goals. Make a plan for how to connect with them, how to ask for their help, and how to nurture that relationship. Look around and see who else you would like to bring into your network. Are there experienced practitioners who can mentor you, act as a sounding board, or introduce you to others? Thankfully, I have found that lawyers are usually incredibly generous with their time and are happy to share their expertise and provide guidance to other lawyers.
Identify how you can make those connections and take advantage of existing programs. The Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program does a fabulous job of creating and fostering mentor-mentee relationships based on specific criteria, such as substantive areas or practice settings.
Finally, if relevant, consider your marketing efforts. In your goal plan, broadly identify what marketing tools you will use to help achieve your goals. I have a detailed marketing plan that breaks down media platforms, content, and frequency. Keep this goal plan at a higher level, but answer who do I want to reach, how will I reach them and what do I want to say about myself.
Marketing can include traditional marketing, such as radio/print/social media ads. But keep in mind that part of marketing is establishing yourself as an authority on an issue, so write blog posts, an article for a bar association, or give CLE presentations.
Finally, prioritize your goals. I go with: high, medium, and low. This helps ensure that you aren’t investing time and energy into activities you don’t actually care about or that yield a low return on investment.
Below is a simple template that you can use or adapt in your own goal planning exercise.
y own practice, I have found goal planning to be a very powerful tool for accountability, taking specific steps towards goals, and ultimately, achieving those goals. D
Sarah Coleman is the owner of Coleman Law, which provides litigation support and legal research and writing services to Colorado lawyers on a contract or freelance basis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.colemanlaw.org.