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Why lawyers don’t set Personal Goals?

Why lawyers don’t set personal goals?

The reason: (largely) because they assume that this coming year will be the same as last year.

  • Same colleagues;
  • Same type of clients;
  • Same financial targets give or take the odd 5%-10% growth;
  • Same law;
  • Same partner expectations;
  • Same unresolvable problems around secretarial, administration and marketing support;
  • Same networking objectives (#1, #2 and #3 is just to attend!);
  • Same lack of focus at ground floor level about the direction of the firm;
  • Same grumbles about partner remuneration;
  • Same issues about lack of promotion.

In other words the die has been cast and cast again and no amount of goal setting is going to make a jot of difference – SMART goal setting or otherwise!

But is that right? Should lawyers be taking more personal responsibility?

I have mentioned on a number of occasions before the need for lawyers to get into the growth mindset or in more colloquial terms To Get Better. Hardly original I know, but having read The Speed of Trust by Stephen M R Covey there is a wonderful chapter under relationship trust (one of the 5 waves of trust) which deals with this hugely, hugely important area. For me it is one of if not the most ignored areas of professional practice – both by those managing law firms and individual lawyers.

There may be some cogent reasons why this might be the case but none of them are likely to pass muster for this simple reason: ask yourself the question whether personally and/or professionally you have reached or achieved your full potential? Or to put it another way are you still growing as a lawyer, manager and leader?

Of course, there may be something in the psyche which says:

“I studied for 6 years to qualify and I am sure as hell not going to keep studying. I want a break from those damn books. I learn what I need to from doing the day job”.

Fair enough, but learning should not rest on happenstance or a process of osmosis. You know, turning up on the job, working to a job spec, getting a tiny bit of coaching, mentoring or peer based feedback and thinking “Hey I’m getting better”. No it means reading something of interest and useful outside of your practice area, buying a CD programme to make the best use of your travelling time (that is what I did with Stephen M R Covey’s book) and taking further exams if necessary but not just in your practice area (and please don’t just think of an MBA or LLM!). It also, and importantly, means getting constant, meaningful feedback from all those that you work with on how you could get better and acting on it. This may be an uncomfortable process for a lot of lawyers.


As an aside, ask yourself whether you provide for an upwards feedback or appraisal process? I once posited this question in the context of Trainee Solicitors giving feedback on the supervisors, knowing full well that it was as likely to happen as the firm dropping one of its service lines.

But why not? How are earth are supervisors supposed to get better? Now of course it is unlikely to be a full bore, here goes, frontal attack because the poor trainee will not want to have their card marked but something is better than nothing.


If you wanted to take it to another level you might always think of how you might work in a different role within your firm (no this is not a TV drama in the making like Undercover Boss) or go outside of the firm and get some work experience with a client – and no it doesn’t always have to be the ubiquitous secondment. Why don’t you ask to go and shadow someone for a week that works in the front line. You know something that allows you to get under the skin of the business.

If you must go to an external provider then how about an exchange with a larger law firm. I once remember approaching a very small firm in Devon who had such an exchange programme for their trainees which I thought was an excellent idea particularly if they tended to hold on to their trainees. Just think it about it it may be the only external experience that they get. How many partners do you know who have never moved firms? Where do they get their sphere of experience from? The Armed Forces probably have it about right in moving people around every 2 years. What if you had some sort of rotational system in your firm? How would it work? Perhaps this hinges on being more curious or innovative. Frankly it doesn’t matter what label you ascribe to it as long as it breaks the cycle.

By this stage you will no doubt be asking yourself, well what’s the point? The point is that as humans we have this innate sense of curiosity and even though the die may well have been cast with the cohort that we have followed and it is difficult to see how any of this Get Better stuff is going to make any difference, one thing is for sure: you will feel that you have greater control and (hopefully) say over the direction of your career. And more than that these newly acquired skills – whatever they are – will make you more valuable and not just in an economic sense.

If you are committed to growing and developing as a lawyer and person then goal setting should become second nature and more than that – it should be hugely meaningful and something that drives you on to greatness (an egotistical word I know but that is what it should mean for you).

If you need a sample goal setting template then create one and break it down into:

  • 12 month goals;
  • 6 month goals;
  • 1 month goals;
  • 1 week goals;
  • daily goals.

Look at the areas where you can make the difference in the quickest amount of time. In other words use the 80/20 rule (the Pareto principle) and focus on those goals that will have the biggest impact. But don’t just skew the system but also have some goals that are fun, like learning a new skill (I want to learn the Tango for 2011). Try to work on family or relationship goals – always tricky when you have a people dimension but it is so important that you don’t ignore the support that you so take for granted.

If you have been inspired to do something different this year then I would love to hear from you. It would be great to get an idea of your goals and then perhaps touch base over the course of the year to see how things are going.

Good luck for 2011. It will soon be here.


For more on developing profitable business, innovating in professional practice and implementing social media, subscribe to the RSS Feed of my Blog. Follow me on Twitter at @0neLife, or @Ju_Summerhayes connect to me on LinkedIn or friend me on Facebook. If I can help you or your practice, check out my coaching and consulting firm via LinkedIn, email me on or call me on 075888 15384.

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