Practice Pointers, Small Law Firms

The Practice: Goal Setting – Non-Billable Hour Edition

If you’re a lawyer, and some of you that read this are, you know it’s time to start trying to convince yourself that you’re going to do wonderful things “next year.”

Advice is readily available on the internet about the proper way to set goals, but as usual, I am here to help you ignore all of that. No reason to go to websites like mindtools.com that begin with a clear shot at Biglaw by stating: Many people feel as if they’re adrift in the world. They work hard, but they don’t seem to get anywhere worthwhile.

So mean.

Anyway, here is my surefire way to have a great 2012 as a lawyer….

The first thing you should consider is not setting any goals. Setting goals says, “I want to do better, accomplish more,” and we all know that is a thing of the past, so why put that pressure on yourself? Are you really that unhappy? Strike that question.

Think about bucking the trend — tell those who ask that you’ve simplified your life by not thinking how you can use buzz phrases like “taking it to the next level,” and “next year is going to be epic.” When someone asks, “what are your goals for next year,” say: “Goals are for those who have to remind themselves they are incomplete and in search of meaning for their empty lives.” Your friend will look at you askance and question his own existence, but just go with it.

If you are going to set goals, remember that you will not accomplish most of them. Goal gurus say to set goals above what you think you can accomplish. I say screw that. Why not set goals that will find you at the end of the year saying, “I did it all!” For example, if after auto-tweeting links about car accidents 24 hours a day, you made $23,000 in your solo practice, set a goal to make $17,500 next year. Once you hit that number (and if you’ve taken any of my advice these past few weeks, that should be by January 3), you will be energized and think you can accomplish anything. You will think goal setting is the greatest thing you’ve ever done and start setting more goals. Maybe you’ll set a goal to see your kids for ten minutes a week. On minute 13, you’ll feel like a champ.

(This is the dead serious portion of post — little snark, no B.S., real stuff.)

There are five categories of goals — business, financial, family, health, and other relationships.

These are my categories. I didn’t get this from anyone, so if you disagree, well, whatever.

Business goals are not about money. Business goals are about partnerships, hiring decisions, office space issues, types of cases, etc. Yes, money comes into play here, but business goals should be set with the primary consideration being how you want to grow and change your business. The reason you can’t accomplish these goals is because you’re always thinking about money. So stop.

Financial goals are two-fold — business income and personal spending. Try not to do a simple number thing: “I want to make ______.” That’s meaningless. Unless you can say why making a certain amount will make a difference to you, forget the number. Try to set this goal in terms of how many cases or clients you’d like to get. On personal spending, that’s easy, that’s called budgeting (and that’s for people who are routinely broke; no one really does it). Just think about ways you can cut back or change your personal spending habits. Accept that you have certain spending habits that will never change. Goal setting is not a time to tell yourself what a screw up you are,because I can do that just fine here.

Health, family, and other relationships should be pretty self-explanatory, even to lawyers.

But there’s something to know about all of these goals — the reason you’re not accomplishing much after setting them is because you are not setting goals — you are writing down results. Making more money is a result. Losing weight is a result. Spending more time with your wife is a result. The goal is how you get to the result. Making $1,000,000 may be the result — but the goal is X amount of cases, X amount of fees per case, etc. Spending more time with family is the result of the goal of leaving the office earlier two days a week and blocking out a specific time every weekend.

You get this? Is this beyond your comprehension? I’m telling you you’re doing it all wrong.

Goal(s) are how you get to the results.

If you really want to do this right — get five like-minded people together at someone’s office on a Saturday morning for five hours. Everyone comes prepared with three to five goals in each category. Lock the door and discuss. It’s pretty powerful.

It’s also great networking, and you don’t need business cards.

Happy New Year.

Now go accomplish something.


Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at bt@tannebaumweiss.com.

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