Ideally, 2017 planning would be well underway but for those just starting, there’s still time to plan well for 2017. Here’s how…




  1. Critique 2016. As each year’s plan is intended to get you one year closer to your final destination (the goals in your strategic plan, five or ten years out), you need to assess the effectiveness of the current year before you can determine how much further you need to go in the following year.
    • Did you have the right goals? We’re you focussed on the right areas? Did the goals you set help you to move one year closer to your ultimate goals?
    • Did you have the right, and enough, action items? We achieve goals by accomplishing a range of actions that lead toward those goals. A common issue of failure to reach a goal is the lack of a sufficient number of actions items. For example, if you wanted to improve your business development skills, but only gave yourself three action items to do so, it’s unlikely that effort will result in sufficient improvement.   Be honest with yourself: were you a bit lazy in the planning department?
    • Did you implement well? Sometimes the issue is not the action items, it’s our weaknesses in doing those action items effectively. Did you do them at all? Did you do them on time? Did you do them with gusto or half-heartedly? If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
    • Did you track your results so you can see cause and effect? That which gets rewarded gets done. If you can see how your efforts are benefiting you, you stand a better chance of maintaining the discipline needed to continue with those actions. Track when you have done your action items, and then track any benefits (now or in the future) that result from those efforts. Review this when you do your current year critique to help remind yourself that action items done well will indeed achieve your goals. If you tracked your results, use that information to continue your momentum in 2017. If you didn’t track your results, commit to doing so in the New Year.
  1. Set goals for 2017. Now that you have a better sense of far you’ve come v. where you wanted to be, you’re in a better position to set your goals for the next year. Describe them as business objectives, not action items. Improve my BD to the point where I’ve built up my client base by 15%. Improve my realization rate by 5%. You’ll note these are wish lists, not action items. These are also goal-oriented in that it will be clear at the end of the year as to whether or not they have been accomplished. Not all of your goals may have embedded metrics in this way. For example, you might want to ensure you are seen as more of a team player. That’s OK, especially if these are goals where you’ll just know – by the end of the year – if you’ve achieved them. For most lawyers, goals should span financial targets, education, marketing and BD, and practice management at the very least. And incidentally, each of these areas could (and probably should) have several goals beneath it.
  2. Set action items for those goals. Now that you have your goals in place, determine what action items are needed in order to achieve those goals. Three action items over the course of the year are not usually sufficient to realistically accomplish a goal. Remember: your career is riding on accomplishment of your goals. Give yourself a fighting chance to achieve them. Don’t be off-put by the difficulty of coming up with actions. That battle forces you to look at the issue from a different perspective, usually resulting in insights on how many different ways you can pursue a goal.
  3. Diarize all actions and determine how to maintain your discipline in implementing on them. A plan is just paper. Action items have a better chance of getting done when they are placed in your calendar system. But that’s not enough. You need to have the discipline to ensure those action items get done each month. You also need to have the discipline to do those actions well. Showing up for a lunch with a contact isn’t sufficient. Prep for the lunch: understand what you want to achieve, determine how to structure the conversation, consider what you can offer in return, etc.

Planning takes some time and thought at the front end, but its purpose is to save you time and energy throughout the year. It’s challenging to meet the requirements of being a lawyer – getting in the billable hours, meeting education credit requirements, participating in firm functions and committees, finding time to do your own marketing in addition to helping the firm with institutional marketing. By setting and pursuing your own goals, you ensure that your non-billable time is maximized, and that the actions you choose to do will more directly lead toward accomplishment of the goals you’ve set for yourself.