Vision - Practical Considerations and Caveats

The most important element in a successful law practice.

Vision ...
is where you want to be positioned.

Mission ...
is how you are you are going to get there.

A statement of your personal vision or of the firm's collective vision is not the same as a mission statement. Your vision can passive or status oriented while mission is always active. For example, your personal vision may include the aspiration to ascend to the bench or enter politics. Your firm's vision may include internal loyalty and collegiality and these quality of life aspirations may take precedence over purely financial aspirations.

Practical Consideration
The firm's prime directive (the operational rule that trumps all other operational rules) is a good place to start when working to development an articulation of vision. As a planning exercise do a one-question survey asking all the stakeholders to write down the firm's prime directive as they see it. You should define 'Prime Directive'. However using an aided format (giving examples or a list to choose from) creates the risk of directing the responses and thus loosing value. If you have regular stakeholder meetings, the concept of the prime directive can be discussed to better define the idea. You must meaningfully guarantee anonymity, or you'll end up with only gt-sc . Do not allow respondents to keep copies of their response. (Thus don't pass out and collect the question where everyone has a chance to photocopy the sheet.) Do not post a list of the responses, specifically or generally. If the firm is undergoing some reorganization or change of focus activities, repeating this exercise at some time in the future will provide the planner with insight as to the depth of the changes brought about and whether they are consistent with the plan.

The firm's vision must be consistent with it's prime directive. To the extent that it is not, the prime directive prevails.

It is tempting to think of a firm retreat as a good place to work on the collective vision of the stakeholders. If it is the first time for getting your vision down on paper, and you don't have a third party facilitator at the retreat, be careful. The risk is that the discussion on vision will go nowhere or devolve into a debate without resolution.

There is a paradox in the process of articulating your vision. Your vision statement is not intended for publication yet it is an important part of the practice development process and it is important to your clients. If you define your vision from a marketing perspective - or if you use an advertising consultant as your facilitator - you run the risk of having a vision statement chock-a-block with gt-sc .

It is not necessary that your personal vision or the collective vision of your firm be confused with that of Mother Theresa or of her order of nuns. However, if you have a predatory vision, current or potential clients may perceive themselves as the prey. Take a look at your prime directive . 'You eat what you kill' is pretty close to 'You eat who you kill'. This may not pose a problem with plaintiff's personal injury or other firms that provide ad hoc services and have an established third party new client / case pipeline, but can be a factor that substantially limits referrals and firm growth without the stakeholders ever realizing it.

Practical Consideration
Many of your stakeholders will be hesitant to have a sincere discussion of their vision, especially within a group that is internally competitive. For example, it is unreasonable to have associates or junior partners talk candidly about their personal vision of their professional future in front of those who will do their performance reviews. If your firm decides that articulation of a common professional vision is important, consider techniques to get around the social pressures that spawn gt-sc. You can do this with a third party facilitator who has the power to guarantee and enforce anonymity. This means that there is a clear understanding between the firm and the facilitator. When the facilitator guarantees anonymity and a key associate tells the facilitator that he/she sees his/her professional future elsewhere, this information is not passed along, regardless of the potential benefit to the firm in having it. The benefits of the candor released by anonymity outweigh the risks. If you don't use a facilitator, consider stratifying these discussions. Senior partners meet with senior partners, junior with junior, etc. The use of a facilitator is better and less expensive but this technique is better than nothing.

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