I know you’ve been reading the negative legal news over the past few months. Some of you have been directly affected, and some fear that you might be hit next. Today’s post presents the five steps that you must take now. These apply whether you’re looking for a new job (voluntarily or otherwise), trying to make yourself more valuable so your practice will flourish or so you’ll be considered indispensable at your firm, just starting out, a seasoned practitioner – you get the idea. These five steps are also critical in business development, so pay special attention if rainmaking is on your goal list for 2009.
1. Get crystal clear about whom you seek to serve and how to reach those clients, and then deliver more and better than they could possibly expect. If you’re a fairly new associate at a large firm (within the first two or so years), you’re serving the more senior lawyers at your firm. It’s important, of course, to narrow down on your niche, but your focus needs to be on the lawyers who will give you assignments. If you’re more senior or working in a smaller firm, you may serve more senior lawyers as well as “real” clients of a particular description. When you’ve identified the people you serve, look for ways to impress them. Maybe it’s offering extra resources, maybe it’s proactively raising a potential problem before it turns into an actual problem, or maybe it’s offering a fresh perspective on a long-standing challenge.
2. Set SMART goals for yourself and your practice. SMART goals are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based. Setting goals in this way ensures that you can track your success as you proceed. Instead of saying that you want your client communications to be more timely, you might decide to set a standard that you return all telephone calls within 3 hours of receipt. Instead of setting a goal to bring in new billable work this year, you might decide to set a goal of bringing in $25,000 of new work in the next year. (Whether that’s an achievable goal depends, of course, on your own circumstances.)
3. If what you’re doing isn’t working, change. You’ve probably heard the definition of insanity, attributed (probably wrongly) to Einstein: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Maybe that definition doesn’t always apply, but it’s accurate for operating in our current environment.
So, are you insane? Some old approaches are still valid, but others are now a waste of time. If you don’t know which is which, make it your business to find out now.
4. Find valuable shortcuts. Time remains precious, and it’s wise to eliminate as many time-wasting activities as you possibly can. If you want to learn something new, find a mentor, coach, or training program to show you how to avoid the common traps and how to become proficient more quickly.
5. Drop the excuses and the blame. I must speak plainly on this one: circumstances will never be perfect, and if you wait until they’re better you’ll actually be moving backward. If you’re unhappy in your work but you stay on because it’ll be hard to find a new position in this economy, you aren’t doing yourself or anyone else any favors. If you choose not to invest in necessary training or resources because times are tight, you’re actually costing yourself. While you’re waiting for just the right plan or just the right time or just the right opportunity, others are moving forward with plans and opportunities that are good enough. They’re moving forward and gaining momentum, and you’re standing still. As we all learned in high school physics, objects in motion tend to stay in motion and objects at rest tend to stay at rest. That holds true for people, too.
Here’s the bottom line: if you’re stressed and worried, you aren’t alone. You may find it tempting to hunker down and try not to open yourself to further trouble, but that’s exactly the wrong thing to do now. Everything may begin to look brighter with the new year and new administration, or it could get worse. Don’t wait for an external solution. Implement these five steps now.