Posted on June 15, 2021 by Susan Lambreth
Can your practice group have a direction without goals? Not likely. As we discussed in Part 2, good performance starts with clear direction. This means SMART goals. But, it's not easy to get a group of lawyers to develop and agree to SMART goals. Yet, without them, however, most practice groups don't accomplish a lot.
In Part 1 of this three-part series, we proposed an approach to help practice groups implement sound practice plans. The components include management feedback, partner participation, and a rigorous market assessment. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here. In Part 2, we covered two more requirements for successfully implementing a practice plan – a proper business plan and SMART goals. Finally, in Part 3, we will address why it is so hard for lawyers to develop SMART goals and how critical these goals are to practice group success.
Why SMART Goals are Critical
Hard (i.e., difficult) goals drive performance more effectively than easy goals. And specific hard goals produce a "higher level of output" than vaguely worded ones."
Source: Source: A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance, by Edwin Locke & Gary Latham (1990) – considered the "fathers of goal-setting theory
Why is it so important to develop SMART goals?
Barriers to SMART Goal Success
As great as SMART goals are, it's a challenge to get a group of skeptical lawyers to agree on much of anything, much less a concise set of three goals that will thoroughly engage the practice group over the next year. It requires getting the partners to (1) narrow their focus and (2) establish priorities to which they can be held accountable.
So you want to narrow the frequently competing partner priorities down to the recommended two or three goals that you can actually achieve and keep everyone on task? Lawyers often resist. But, remember from Part 2 – if you have more than 3 goals, your chance of implementing any drops significantly!
Lawyers typically resist because:
It's hard for any group of people to narrow their focus to only a few goals. It's not just lawyers. We are wired for diversity and broad-based thinking. And, ambitious people often want to set big audacious goals. So it's understandable why lawyers might struggle with limiting the number of goals. We don't want to risk picking one option over another – we might miss a great opportunity. Better to hedge our bets rather than put all our eggs in one basket.
It's also a monumental task to develop truly measurable goals. We are not in a commodity business. We can't just produce X number of widgets more and call it a day. So goal setting for lawyers requires a bit more thought. For example, how do you measure the "exceptional customer service" you espouse? What does it mean to make "major inroads" into a new practice area?
For your practice group's SMART goals to work, you need to address the barriers. Shine the light on them. If you need to provide incentives, do so. Push to include goals that matter and that require a sufficient amount of effort so that the practice group feels a sense of accomplishment. Individual partners will have their own goals, but all partners need to buy-in to the collective goals, as well. This requires asking tough questions and addressing the concerns.
SMART Goals That Work
In Part 2, we shared numerous examples of "non-goals" from law firm plans. Here are some examples of real-life law firm SMART goals that are more likely to drive the intended behaviors:
These can be SMART goals for a practice group if they are:
After the group has completed the steps described in Part 1 of this series – particularly the market assessment – the hard work of developing SMART goals begins. Be sure that your market assessment includes plenty of competitive intelligence and strategic communication to group members. If the market assessment is done well, there should be a sense of anticipation and urgency to move forward that motivates partners to participate in developing shared goals. Now you have the momentum to develop the right kind -- and right amount -- of hard goals.
About the Author:
Susan Raridon Lambreth has 19 years of experience as a consultant to the legal profession. She consults on leadership, practice management and strategic issues affecting the future of law firms and the legal profession. She works with managing partners, practice group leaders and executive committees. Ms. Lambreth has helped many of the largest firms in the U.S. implement strong practice group management (including over 30% of the AmLaw 100) and train their Practice Group Leaders. She has trained over 1,600 lawyers, who hold firm or practice management roles, how to lead and manage more effectively.