The inability to create real change or implement new initiatives within their law firms leads to frustration for many lawyers, who often don’t know why their efforts fail. Even after they have built up knowledge so that they know what to do in order to bring about change, have provided or obtained the tools they need to create that change, set deadlines for accomplishing their desired goals, somehow the day to day of law practice gets in the way. It is simply too easy to fall back into old habits and patterns, or to get distracted by the latest client crisis, the stack of paperwork crying out for attention, the email inbox or the flashing voice mail message light.
Often, it is a lack of accountability that causes the failure. Law firm leaders initiate new practices or announce a new direction for the firm or a new project, but fail to build in accountability and establish consequences for failure to comply. Solos suffer even more from a lack of accountability because there is no else one to keep them accountable, and it becomes too easy to justify or create reasons for not getting around to the tasks that need to be done in order to reach the goal. But even where accountability is a part of the plan and consequences are established, or where solos create accountability in other ways or using outside means, it is still rare for lawyers to be successful in bringing about change in their practices.
An overweight person may have full knowledge that being overweight is detrimental to their health. They may know what they need to do in order to lose weight (diet and exercise), and they may have the tools in place to allow them to do it (buying the right foods, gym equipment or a gym membership). They may even have a specific deadline in mind (an upcoming event), and may even have built in accountability in the form of a personal trainer or a friend or loved one they have asked to help to keep them on track. Yet even with all of these elements in place, many do not reach their weight loss goals.
What is missing is dedication and commitment. Most people would like to have the end result: a healthier, more attractive body, but they are not committed to making the changes necessary to reach that goal, or to turn those changes into habits. The same is true when lawyers try to make change within their practices. They may have fantastic intentions and know that if they were successful in reaching their goals, it would have a major impact on their practices. They may be dedicated to the ideal of client service, but not the reality of what that requires of the firm and the short term sacrifices that may need to be made.
Most lawyers already have or can easily obtain the knowledge and the tools. They can be taught about deadlines and accountability and can be reasonably successful in putting those elements into place. But without the ongoing and consistent dedication not just to reaching the goal, but to taking the day to day actions necessary to get there, no plan for law firm change will be successful.
When I am working with law firm clients, when we go through the steps of identifying visions and goals and articulating the actions necessary to reach those goals, I ask my clients to do a ‘gut check.’ The gut check is a simple exercise in which the individual or individuals responsible for taking those day to day actions are asked on a scale of one to ten how committed they are to accomplishing those tasks on a daily basis, and for being governed by those principles necessary to do so, regardless of what else gets in the way.
If the number is not darn close to 10, I suggest that there is no point in undertaking the plan, because there is little chance it will succeed. Success requires commitment to the struggle, not just the result.
How committed are you to the plans you make to improve your practice?