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MIKE HOWARD

Lawyerist Lab Member

Isn’t visioning work ‘corny’ or ‘woo woo’?

Mike Howard thought so until he did the exercise. Now, he credits that as the single biggest impact on his business – which grew by 266% in 8 months.

Deena launched her firm excited to help people. She tried her best to help everyone that reached out to her. “It’s hard to say ‘no’ to potential clients when you’re just starting out.” Before long, she was overwhelmed. Work was coming in the door, but it felt scattered and finding the right people for her team was a challenge. Running her business was soon an unpleasant chore.

To have a healthy firm, Deena was in need of a healthy strategy. (By the way, not sure what we think it means to have a healthy firm and why it’s important? Start here.)

Strategy feels like one of those words that gets thrown around—a lot. But what does it really mean?

A good business strategy includes:

  • Vision – a clear picture of what you’re building.

  • Values – the rules your team will follow to do its important work.

  • Business Model – identify your target market, how you help them, why you’re valuable, key delivery functions, and your price, costs, and profitability.

  • Targets and Priorities – you’ll need both long-term goals that are ambitious, important, clear, and shared by all, and short-term priorities that will help you accomplish your goals and your vision.

For Deena, creating a business strategy allowed her to clearly define what she wanted her business to be and how she could create it. She sifted out practice areas, clients, and cases that didn’t fit. It allowed her to see much more clearly who should be on the team and who should not. Deena shared, “Having a business strategy has been a huge relief.”

Having a business strategy has been a huge relief.

A business strategy isn’t just words in a fancy document that sits on your shelf collecting dust. It is the driver for all your business decisions. As Spencer Keys explained, “it gives you a backbone when it comes to big decisions.” The clarity you gain from knowing your business strategy is palpable. “Because I’ve eliminated so much anxiety in the back of my mind not worrying about my firm’s direction all the time, I’m more deliberate about my business and am making things happen.” Spencer Schmidt. You sleep better at night knowing that you have a direction and you’re moving closer to making your dreams a reality.

01.Why We Think Most ‘Vision Statements’ Suck

We are striving to be the best [fill in your practice area] in [fill in your location] by really listening to our clients and putting them first.

Sound familiar? We’ve seen way too many small law firms use some variation of the above and think their visioning work is done.

Here’s the thing. This statement doesn’t actually tell us anything about what this firm is building. What does it mean to be the “best?” We once came up with over 20 different definitions in just 10 minutes for being the “best” lawyer or “best” law firm. Also, this statement isn’t very inspiring. If you’re recruiting someone, why would they be excited to join the team and achieve this vision?

We can do better.

STEPHANIE EVERETT

Lawyerist Lab Coach

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode #307

Vision & Values: The Foundation of Your Business

Listen to Episode

A More Complete Picture

We need to actually say (likely in more than one paragraph) what it is we are trying to build with our business. A more complete vision statement would answer things like:

  • Who do we help and how do we help them?

    • How do we approach serving our clients?
    • Do we offer bespoke services or do we charge less because we’ve automated our processes?
    • What makes us different? Do we have a unique approach? A defined process?
  • What’s it like to be on our team?

    • How do we interact with one another? What’s it like in our office?
    • What do we expect from our team? Is it collaborative?
    • How do we approach training and development? Compensation? Benefits?
  • What kind of impact are we making in our community?
  • How do we use technology? Are we trying to be innovative? Do we practice relentless incrementalism?
  • What does growth look like?
  • What financial factors matter?
  • Are we building something we plan to sell? Pass to the next generation?

When you read your firm’s vision statement, you should get excited! You should look at it and think, “Yes! That’s why I started this business!” If you’re not inspired, you can’t expect the rest of your team to be.

So go out to a place that inspires you and start dreaming! Start describing what it means to YOU to have the “best” law firm. Be authentic. Get inspired! You’re going to create something amazing!

Feeling stuck? We see lots of attorneys get stuck trying to create the perfect vision statement or overwhelmed by how to start. Good news! Creating a business vision is actually the first topic we tackle in our coaching program for small law firm owners, Lawyerist Lab. If you’re already clear on your business vision, we’ll stress test it to make sure it’s solid. If you’re at square one, no worries, we have the tools to get you going.

02. Values: Your Firm’s Rules of the Road

Cari lived for her systems. She had documented in great detail how her team should complete most of their everyday tasks in her firm. And yet, this one team member just refused to follow them. Cari was beyond frustrated. “Why is she ignoring me?” “Am I a bad manager?” It was easy for Cari to feel like she was doing everything wrong.

Cari’s biggest mistake was not identifying her core values and using those in the management of her business. She mistakenly hired someone who could not operate in her system-driven organization. It was destined to fail before it started. Now, Cari has designed her hiring process to cess out how potential employees operate in a system-driven organization. She ensures that everyone she hires is aligned with the company’s core values.

Values are the guiding principles for your business. This is the most important management tool you’ll create for your team. Your values help you determine who should be on the team, what success looks like, and guides people in their day-to-day activities. Time and time again we see the issue of employees not aligning that the problem employees are not aligned with the company’s core values.

Identifying Your Core Values

  • What traits or qualities are imperative for your team?
  • What behaviors are deal breakers?
  • Look for common themes and identify the most important ones. Narrow your list to 4-6 key values.
  • Think about each word or phrase and describe the concept more fully—what does this mean? Why is it important? How do you expect this idea to show up in your firm?
  • Share these values with your team
  • Find ways to incorporate these ideas into everyday firm life for everyone on the team.

In Lab, our coaches stress test each firm’s core values. First, we check to make sure the identified word or phrase really matches the intent. We also check to make sure the language is authentic and resonates with the team. Next, are they complete? Did you capture all the key concepts? Finally, we eliminate table stakes values—those attributes that all companies are expected to have. We take it as a given that you’re ethical/professional/hard-working/caring, etc. Calling it out almost undermines your company. Do you really need to say you’re ethical?

Terry Mosteller

Lawyerist Lab Member

Hiring was so difficult until I got clear on my values

Now, the process is easier because I better understand who will be a good fit for our team and know how to use the hiring process to figure that out. I often hear that I should hire people I’d want to hang out with. Now I know how to hire people that align with our firm’s core values.”

BEN HUDSON

Lawyerist Lab Member

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode #248

Hiring Based on Values with Ben Hudson

Listen to Episode

You must incorporate your values into your firm’s daily work. Everyone on your team should know what they are and really understand what they mean. Managers should reference the firm’s values when providing feedback or applauding success.

03. Your Business Model Blueprint

Gianfranco and Julio saw that their value was more than just the time they spent 1:1 with clients. They realized many of their clients needed information about the legal process so they created an online course that helps thousands of people get the information they need for a reasonable price.

Jeff saw an opportunity to build a subscription-based service for his business clients. Each month, his clients can budget their legal spend and get solid help while Jeff has a predictable, repeatable income stream.

Rebecca created a family law firm based 100% on flat fees (yes, it can be done). Her clients have predictable fees and she increases her profitability by taking advantage of automation and systems.

For too long, lawyers have skipped the idea of creating a business model because they just assume they will deliver legal services the way it’s always been done and that the market will respond to whatever they offer.

Competitive Analysis at Work

Too many lawyers open their practice without any thought to what the market wants, needs, or what’s missing. Don’t simply assume there’s a market for what you do.

A competitive analysis gives you insight into what the market is missing or how you can set yourself apart from the crowd.

Design and Test

Your business model is your core plan to make profit. It identifies your target market, describes how you’ll help them, how you’ll deliver your services, and your price, costs, and profitability. Your competitive analysis and your market research based on current, former, and potential clients should inform the business model. If you have an idea on how you might help your clients in a different way but aren’t sure how your target market will respond, go ask them! Don’t be afraid to test your ideas with clients willing to beta test your new delivery model. You will learn an enormous amount without wasting valuable resources building something that isn’t quite right.

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode #273

Your Business Model Canvas, with Alan Smith

Listen to Episode

Many of the attorneys in our Lawyerist Lab community are pushing the envelope and experimenting with new delivery models. They are thinking of their value beyond the billable hour and the results are exciting. Our coaches help them think through the elements of their business model and our community events give them opportunities to share ideas, what’s working and what’s not. It’s an invaluable network. We’re always looking for lawyers ready to try new things to join our community.

04.Keep Track of Where You Are and Where You’re Going

You’ve described your long-term vision, identified your values, and built a model around how your business will deliver client services. The final piece of a healthy strategy is to dive into the details, data, and deadlines.

Revisit your vision statement but this time instead of just looking at the big picture, think through the details. Look 3 years out and ask yourself questions like:

  • How much revenue and profit will the firm generate?
  • What will your firm’s compensation philosophy cost you (salary plus benefits)?
  • What type of services will we offer at that time?
  • What will the average value of each case type be?
  • How many people will need to be on the team to support your ideal caseload?
  • What types of positions do you want to have on the team?
  • What types of tools, systems, or resources will you need to provide to the team?
  • How much vacation will you take each year? Members of your team?
  • What other numbers matter or feel significant for making your vision a reality?

Now, you can use these answers to fill in your 3-year targets. Think about and identify 3-year targets for each major area of your business including: financial, client services or delivery of legal services, your team, and operations.

With your 3-year targets in mind, you can focus on short-term goals. What will you need to achieve in the next year to be on pace for your longer 3-year targets? You’ll revisit these goals each quarter. Finally, what is your firm’s priority for the upcoming quarter?

In their excitement to move their business forward, business owners often make a mistake of biting off more than they can chew. The result is that they quickly get overwhelmed and then nothing gets done. Instead, practice relentless incrementalism—the process of slowly and relentlessly taking small actions that will bring you closer and closer to your ideal.

Keep a list of all the projects or ideas you have about what needs to happen to make your vision a reality. This becomes your long-term issues list. Now for the hard part. Look at the list to prioritize the one or two things that your business needs the most right now. Which projects have the potential to make the most impact? Start with these projects.

Scope Your Projects

Before digging into your project, consider:

  • What is the purpose of the project?
  • What’s the definition of done? 
  • What resources are needed?

    • How many people will work on it?
    • How much time will this really take? Be realistic.
    • Do the assigned people have sufficient time to complete the project?
  • Identify milestones.
  • Identify a reasonable timeline.
  • Detail the steps to complete the project.

Assign one person on your team to be accountable for each project. This person doesn’t necessarily have to do all of the work but they’re responsible for ensuring each action item is completed. If the project is stalled or not finished, you want to hold one person accountable. Use the scoping process detailed above to make sure the project owner is very clear on what they need to do and how to do it. Assign milestones and deadlines.

Repeat this process each quarter. Use your quarterly leadership retreat to assess where you are, what issues need to be solved, and which projects are the priority for the coming quarter.

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode #348

Why You Need to Have Quarterly Retreats, with Kelly Street

Listen to Episode

We appreciate that completing this process and having the ability to step back and think critically about your firm can be difficult to do by yourself. This is one of the benefits of working with our coaches and community in our Lawyerist Lab program. We facilitate an online quarterly strategy retreat for members of our Lab community to guide them through this process, help them think critically about their business, and scope next steps.

Up Next…
Healthy Team

Now that you’re clear on what you want to build, let’s get started with creating a healthy team to help build and run your business.