Overall The most important element in a satisfying law
The act of defining 'vision' must be
done with care. The meaning of the word 'vision' is in large part conveyed
by the context in which it is used, and thus, standing alone, is ambiguous.
The danger is that intellectualizing the definition and thus limiting the
scope of the ambiguity, functions to diminish the importance of the concept.
For example, a definition which intellectualizes a concept that is not entirely
intellectual and thus makes it appear less important is found in political
history. The concept is called Communism. As Marx and Engels originally defined
this political and economic concept, it wasn't exactly overwhelming. When
Lenin turned it into a vision it became something thousands were willing to
die for. The fact that, in the long run, it was wrong and couldn't fulfill
its promise didn't matter. While our situation isn't nearly so dramatic, this
illustrates the point that there are things in life, that, when put into
words, discussed and debated, seem diminished. The converse is true as well.
There are concepts that, as part of our lives, are more than the sum of their
words. Vision is one of these.
'Vision' is an articulated aspirational
Including a mixed metaphor (articulated
/ vision) in a definition isn't such a hot idea. 'Articulated' means clearly
spoken in words. 'Vision' refers both to our gift of sight and the conclusions
we reach as a result. However, we don't 'see' in words. Equally important,
we don't 'feel' in words. We feel in emotions that can be as powerfully
controlling as they are difficult to explain.
Vision, is not limited to a sight analogy.
Some of us 'see' ourselves arguing before the Supreme Court, some of us 'see'
ourselves making a lot of money, some 'see' themselves making a difference
in their clients' lives. These various aspects of vision come together when
we express this vision in words.
For the members of a profession whose
day to day activities are word driven intellectual exercises, our definition
of vision carries within it a little discomfort if not risk.
The nature of vision is idiosyncratic.
Similar people can have incompatible
visions. One of the fellows who recently escaped from prison in Tennessee
was captured when his drinking buddies turned him in for the reward money.
These gentlemen may have been compatible in many ways, but an incompatible
vision on one element of their relationship had a watershed impact as well
as an ironic twist. Compatible visions are key elements to a successful
long-term relationship, whether between lawyer and client or between quarterback
and receiver. Steve Young is supposed throw the ball, Jerry Rice is supposed
to catch it. They both are to be totally focused, endure pain without complaint
and share the glory of victory or the ignominy of defeat. Each needs the
other for each to enjoy individual success. Their success is more a result
of their compatible visions than it is a result of God given talent, hard
work or luck. The same is true between a lawyer and client and between stakeholders
within a law firm.
Expressing your firm's vision in
words is important because until you do...
It really isn't clear to you, and
You can't share it with others through
In a changing environment, clarity
of vision is priceless asset. Think of anyone you know who you would describe
as 'knowing what they are doing'. What you are describing is your perception
that this person has clarity of vision. Clarity of vision is a necessary
precursor to competence. Competence is, after all, just the ability to discipline
chaos to a purpose. Practice development competence is just the ability to
choose and reach a professional goal in an evolving environment and changing
Most law firms already have a reasonable
level of practice administration efficiency. While the day to day business
activities of the office can usually be improved, vision goes beyond 'fungible'
activities and considers both activities and status that are professionally
satisfying. In other places we've described satisfaction as experience judged
by expectation. Vision relates to the expectation component.
Vision is not a gift.
In the sense that some of us have a
'gift' for the piano or mastery of foreign languages, vision is not a gift.
Everyone has vision to one degree or another. Vision is what encouraged
many lawyers to do the work and incur the debt of law school. For some, their
vision became clouded over time. For others, changes in their personal and
professional circumstance caused the vision to lose focus. For many of us,
changes in our practice environment and market make the vision seem unobtainable.
Vision can not be given, it must
If one is not already expressed, the
first step in the practice development process is articulation of the common
professional vision of the stakeholders. Regardless of past success, senior
leadership at a law firm can't effectively dictate the professional vision
to the stakeholders. This is for two reasons. First, consider your vision,
my vision and our vision. Your vision may be interesting but it is not inherently
valuable to me. Perhaps it will help me understand you better, but it is still
your vision. My vision is, likewise, not inherently valuable to you. The
professional visions of others are only valuable to us to the extent that
they are meaningfully predictive in actualizing our individual vision. (For
example, from these pages you may come to feel that AMI's vision predicts
that our engagement will help your firm actualize its vision. To this extent
our vision is meaningful to you. Otherwise it is a curiosity.)
When people seek to join you because
of your vision, it is not because you have given your vision to them, but
because in the clarity with which you express your vision, they have discovered
The second reason senior leadership
can't dictate vision to the firm is the universal recognition of perceptual
differences. Not only does everyone perceive their individual situation
as unique but they perceive interpersonal competition as well. Examples of
this outside law firms abound. If you have teenage children it is likely
that they have mentioned that 'you don't/can't understand' their friends,
choices in music or whatever. While you are all one family and they may intellectualize
your leadership, concern for their welfare and even wisdom, they steadfastly
maintain that they have a different vision, even if they can't explain it,
just because they aren't you. If you are leading a law firm of junior attorneys
and non-attorney staff, having them think and feel that 'they aren't you'
as you try to impose your vision is inefficient if not counterproductive.
Vision is not for wimps
A simple, elegant statement of vision
is a powerful organizational tool. It provides a fundamental unity of ultimate
purpose that allows the group to function efficiently as a unit. It provides
a means to unify individuals of widely divergent backgrounds, abilities
and circumstances into an organization greater than the sum of its parts.
No one mistakes the Marine Corps for anything other than a very focused,
efficient, goal oriented organization. It starts with their vision, "Semper
In seeking to articulate a vision
common to all the stakeholders in a firm, certain assumptions are a mistake.
It is a mistake to assume that 'vision'
is a marketing tool.
It is a mistake to assume that determining
the validity of a vision statement is a function of seniority. It's right
when all agree it is right, not when the senior partner or management committee
says so. It is a mistake to assume that the motivational effect of a clearly
articulated vision is directly proportional to seniority. The young, who
find personal value in a clearly articulated vision of what they can contribute,
are more motivated by a clearly articulated vision than the old, who are
more likely to value the status quo and whatever security it brings.
It is a mistake to assume that vision
is more important to the highly compensated or the highly educated.
Vision is always positive.
Vision can be prosaic, it can be shared
by many, it can even be mean spirited or just plain dumb. But it can't be
negative. A vision in the negative is to see what can't be there. An attorney
can have the vision of economic success, or even of making more money than
a certain competitor. But if he or she says that their vision is 'not to go
bankrupt' its not a vision, it is the prelude to an exit from the profession.
Consider telling your travel agent that the articulated aspirational objective
(vision) of your next vacation is "avoiding all resort hotels we won't like
or can't afford". Vision must be positive in both form and substance.
Clarity of vision is the antidote
to the poison of ambiguity.
Where is the legal profession going?
Where do you think you and/or your firm will be professionally in ten years?
Numerous other research based organizations and we have volumes of empirical
data on the ennui infecting the legal profession. Analogize your firm to
the three activities of an army. An army is either on a campaign, preparing
for a campaign or losing. Or analogize to your individual professional life.
You're either going someplace or you're just getting older.
Clarity of vision is a key element
In light of
Core Concept #1
(90% of your clients judge you professionally by standards different
from those you apply to yourself.) What is the basis on which clients trust
their attorney? There are a number of elements that create the environment
for trust, but don't themselves constitute the basis of the trust relationship.
Caring, competency and integrity attributes together with good client manners
create this environment. But core trust comes into being when the client perceives
the attorney's vision to be aligned with the client's. They don't have to
be the same, but they must be consistent. To demonstrate by analogy to another
profession, if you're going to have heart bypass surgery, your trust in the
physician is primarily based on your vision of having a successful surgery
aligned with your perception of your physician's vision of performing another
perfect surgery. Second hand reports on his or her competence, the warmth
of the bedside manner, the candor of the pre-surgery conversations all take
a back seat - in terms of your trust in your doctor - to the clarity of the
doctor's vision. It's the same between attorney and client.
Vision together with communication
is the essence of leadership.
Within a law firm - as opposed to a group of attorneys sharing office
space - the essence of leadership is the ability to keep the common professional
vision in the minds and hearts of all the stakeholders. This is different
from training, it is different from supervision and it is different from
mentoring. Training and supervision are administrative functions. Mentoring
within a firm works best when the mentor and protégé share a vision, but
is essentially a one to one relationship. Leadership goes beyond this and
can exist in an individual who is lousy as a trainer, supervisor or mentor.
A leader must possess both the vision and the ability to communicate it.
The expression of vision in words
is important when a large part of the relationship is other than face to
Words are the principle way we share
vision with others. Until we share our individual visions we can not develop
a common vision for the law firm whose practice we wish to develop. This
is why, for most successful law firms improvements in interstakeholder communications
produce bottom line gains most efficiently. The ability to communicate vision
is also very important in a practice development context. For firms that receive
a large portion of their business by recommendation, reputation or referral,
third parties will communicate something about the firm to prospective clients.
The skill of the stakeholders to clearly and consistently articulate 'what
the firm is all about' will help those recommending or commenting on the
firm to present the firm in a way that is clear and accurate.
The importance of vision is not
diminished if it is the preservation of the status quo.
There are two continuums to consider
here. One is the vision continuum. At one end is an internal vision of absolute
clarity and simplicity and at the other is externally imposed chaos.
The other is the continuum of the 'distance'
between where we are and where we aspire to be. At one end of the continuum
is radical change in substance and at the other end is preservation of the
status quo. I have a long way to go before I achieve my svelte aspiration,
while I have friends who only aspire to stay thin. This concept of aspirational
distance is important in a planning process because progress in achieving
vision is usually made in small increments.
Please call, mail, or
with your comments or for more information.
Advocates Management, Inc.
1332 South 26th Street
Manitowoc, WI 54220
Voice: (877) ADVOCATES (toll free)
Fax: (920) 684-4414
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