A client once asked me for the best piece of advice I could give a client and I said “listen to me”.  But the reality is that my clients probably follow the rule of thirds: one third absolute listen and do what I suggest, a third try it for a while but eventually let their discipline slide, and a third don’t bother even giving it a try.

The difference between a modestly profitable practice and a strongly profitable one might be a few action items or a slight change in business belief systems.  In such an environment, discipline matters.  It’s not like I’m suggesting law firms operate in strange and unusual ways.  This all comes down to some pretty basic business principles.

  1. Set your goals. Few firms truly have annual business goals.  Instead, their lawyers have a loose understanding in their heads of what should be accomplished.  Make more money.  Get more clients.  They might even have a few specific goals in mind: change over to a new accounting system, replace this particular employee.  To my mind, these are wishes, not business goals.  Be specific. Write them down. Share them with others in the firm to ensure you’ll all be rowing together. I find the last quarter of the year is a good time to do this planning.  I start by reflecting on what the firm was trying to achieve in the current year, how successful they were, and why (or why not).  That better sets the stage for an honest discussion of business goals for the coming year.
  2. Creating a corresponding operational plan. It’s not enough to have a list of business goals. You also need a list of all of the action items you will take on to achieve those goals.  And most goals require more than a single action item.  Think it through.  What are all of the actions needed? What are all of the steps of each of those actions?  Who will be doing them, and when?  Be really specific.  This will be the blueprint for action in the coming year.
  3. Divide all of those action items and steps into the twelve months and create a list by month of what needs to be done. I print out my list at the end of the prior month, and make plans for how I will get everything on the list done within the next 30 days. When those action items come up, I don’t second-guess them.  And I don’t put them off.  Here is where the real discipline comes into play.  Ensure that every single item is done that month.
  4. Once a quarter I review my detailed plan and I choose a contrasting font colour and report in on the appropriate sections of the plan. This is how I record items that are completed, and I also speak to the results.  Recording completed activities and results helps to connect actions to outcomes, and helps to give us the motivation to carry on with our plan implementation.

I appreciate that this may be a very different way than most people operate, but its purpose is to ensure the you maximize every year of your career for maximum production and development.  Operating in this way can substantially improve your output, and ensures that everything you do aligns with your intended goals. There much less wasted time.  My clients who follow this strategy tend to significantly out-perform their colleagues.

If I were to offer you a pill that would increase your output like this, you’d probably take it.  But this process is a bit more time consuming than taking a pill, which is why 2/3rds of you won’t successfully employ this strategy.  I want to speak to the middle third right now: the ones who tend to be lazy on implementation and then stop the work because their inadequate implementation didn’t result in stellar outcomes.  Why not try to do this for real? Why not try to be more disciplined in your approach?  Think like Nike and just do it!?

So rather than giving up before you’ve even started, try doing things differently.  Set your goals, determine exactly how you will seek to achieve those goals, and follow through. Incidentally, the firm that housed the lawyer who asked me for the best piece of advice is also the most attentive and committed firms I’ve ever worked with. They are also – by far – the most profitable of my clients.

Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms, lawyers and administrators.  She can be reached at heather@heathergraygrant.com