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Tuesday, January 28, 2003 Issue 18   VOLUME 1 ISSUE 18  
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Start the New Year With a New Plan
by Felice Wagner

It is often said that if you don’t plan your career, someone else will plan it for you. No where is this truer than in the legal industry. Pushed and pulled in so many directions, it is increasingly difficult for today’s attorneys to stay the course and meet their own goals as well as those of their firms.

Whether it is your career path or your client development and relationship management efforts, your personal success in 2003 and beyond lies in your ability to avoid the distractions and focus on what matters most.

Personal business planning is not about writing a 50-page manifesto outlining every detail of every day of your professional life for the next 10 years. In fact, personal business planning can be as simple as you make it. It’s about taking inventory of where you are, determining where you want to go and building a road map of action toward the career you’ve always wanted. Once you have the plan, all you have to do is revisit it every periodically to check your course and make any necessary adjustments.

Still skeptical about the usefulness of personal business planning? Consider the following:

  • Personal business planning allows you to chart a career course that matches your specific skills, abilities and interests.
  • It’s a tool that can help you to align your own goals with those of your firm.
  • Having a written personal business plan makes it easier for you to review and revisit your goals on a regular basis, making sure that you will not stray too far off course.
  • Because it can take years to develop legal business, a business plan focuses you on what you need to do now to insure that you’ll have business down the road.
  • In today’s highly competitive, highly specialized marketplace, a written plan of action will help you and your firm focus time and resources on those opportunities that offer the greatest chances for success.
  • As you’re bombarded with new ideas and opportunities, your plan can help you stay focused. When the vast array of possibilities present themselves, your plan can serve as a personal Constitution that forces you to make a careful analysis before making amendments or changing course.
  • Finally, a properly written plan will help you measure and recognize the results of your efforts over time.

Here are some simple steps you can take to build your own person business plan:

Take an inventory of where you are. The first step in the personal business planning process is to survey your current situation. Often it helps to ask yourself a series of tough questions. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What practice areas and professional activities most interest you? What is the status of your network and your reputation? How does your personal situation compare with external factors such as your firm’s goals and objectives? Are your goals in line with the objectives of your firm? What about the status of your competition, both internally and externally? Are you looking to succeed in a field packed with attorneys having similar skills and goals? What are the trends taking shape in your geographic region, in your practice area and in your clients’ industries? For each client or prospective client, you should consider:

  • Past performance and future opportunities
  • The strength of your current relationships
  • Internal political, economic or reorganization activities that could impact client purchasing policies or your existing relationships
  • External political, regulatory or economic developments
  • Any other outside forces affecting your clients and potential clients
  • The state of your competition
  • Your core competencies as they relate to key client challenges and objectives
  • The client’s level of urgency for overcoming challenges and achieving objectives vis-a-vis the speed at which you can deliver solutions

Do your goals and objectives capitalize on these trends? Given this analysis, what threats do you need to avoid and what new opportunities can you capitalize on?

Determine where you want to go. Now you know where you are, but where do you want to go? Think about creating a mission statement for yourself. I know it sounds corny, but the mere exercise of trying to come up with one is enlightening. Answer this question: “why am I practicing law and what do I want to achieve?” The answer doesn’t have to be unique or earth shattering – it just has to answer the question.

Also, your mission statement doesn’t have to be long or particularly eloquent. In fact, you should try to keep it to one sentence. The most important thing to remember is that whether you want to become a partner in your firm, help the less privileged, become a judge, move in-house or start your own firm, your mission is yours and yours alone. Your parents were right – you can do and be anything you want.

Build a map for getting there. Now you can begin developing your personal business plan by plotting the steps between your current situation and your destination as described in your mission statement. To do that, you must first establish your long-term goals and then identify the intermediate steps and daily action that you need to take to achieve them. The following discussion should help clarify this planning terminology:

  • Establish long-term goals. First, to accomplish your mission, think about what long-term goals you will need to achieve. For example, if your mission is to become a partner, you might want to set long-term goals of winning a certain amount of new business or developing a new practice area. You might also speak with those people responsible for making partnership decisions to hear what they want to see you accomplish in order to support the decision to make you a partner. Once you know their expectations, you make exceeding them one of your long-term goals. If you are already a partner, your goal might be to develop a certain percentage of new business from existing clients over a period of time.

  • Set intermediate steps. Then, to accomplish these long-term goals, think about what steps you must take to reach them. To continue the above example, you might make it your objective to win two new clients that represent a certain percentage of your long-term business development goal. You might also want to work on three projects in the new practice area that you plan to develop. If your goal is to develop new business with existing clients, you might set a goal of having a certain number of face-to-face meetings with your current clients to discuss their current legal issues.

  • Start taking daily action now. Finally, to accomplish this year’s objectives, think about what short-term strategies or steps you can start taking immediately. For example, to succeed in winning two new clients you might determine that you need to build your referral network and become more visible in your practice area. As a result, you could take a leadership role in an association and begin writing articles and giving speeches. You might run for office in a Bar Association section in which you have an interest. Or, you might join Toastmasters to hone your speaking skills. To identify writing opportunities, you might decide to develop better relationships with key people in your firm’s marketing department so that they think of you when there is a writing opportunity that suits you.

    To accomplish your objective of working on three projects in a new practice area, you might determine that you need guidance and additional skills. As a result, you could identify a mentor with experience building new practice areas. To further develop your skills, you could consider taking continuing legal education courses or seeking out opportunities to work on matters in which you can develop the skills you need to be successful.

    To achieve the objective of developing additional business from existing clients, you might start by scheduling regular entertainment outings with key clients and, in the meantime, educating yourself about your their businesses. What’s going on in their industries? Who are their primary competitors? What legal needs might these clients have that your firm is not currently serving?

The key to building your road map is to make sure that each activity you plan to undertake has a clear deadline and is as specific, objective and measurable as possible. (e.g., “I will take two CLE courses in complex litigation techniques by October 1” or “I will entertain Mr. Jones from ABC, Inc. once each quarter.”) Also, when it comes to planning, the biggest landmine is complexity and procrastination. Try to avoid creating a plan that overwhelms you or anyone you tell about it. And, remember that any plan is better than no plan at all. Strive to keep your plan simple and start taking action now.

Conclusion As an attorney, you’re well versed in the areas of analysis and logic. In every instance, you look at the current situation and connect the dots to accomplish the desired objective. Apply the same approach to personal business planning and the dots you connect will lead you to the career you’ve always wanted to have.


Felice Wagner, a former practicing attorney, is CEO of Sugarcrest Development Group, Inc., a D.C. firm that gives seminars and training programs throughout the country on business development and client loyalty. She can be reached at (202) 828-1242 or felice@sugarcrest.com. Want to see how you measure up as a rainmaker? Take the Rainmaker Reality Check today!

© 2003 NLP IP Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of Legal Times, 1730 M Street, NW, Suite 802, Washington, DC 20036 (202) 457-0686.
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