Goal Planning for Lawyers

In law school, we are all taught the importance of providing your reader with a roadmap.  Although we use this tool in our writing, we often fail to apply it to our professional development.  Goal planning or strategic visioning is a useful exercise for lawyers, but how many of us actually take the time to put pen to paper?

I recently sat down and made a goal plan for Coleman Law in 2018, and here are my thoughts on the process.

Goal planning template

Goal planning template

What does a goal plan do?

Goal planning helps you develop a roadmap for your professional life.  To start, ask yourself: where do I want to go?  Next, ask yourself: how am I going to get there? 

I firmly believe that you should not wait for life to happen to you.  You need to make life happen for you.  Thinking through where you are now, where you want to be in a year, and how you’ll make that happen is especially helpful in times of transitions or new beginnings.  

Where do I want to go and how am I going to get there?

What are the benefits of goal planning?

The great thing about goal planning is that it is completely personalized to you.  I work part-time from my home in a small town.  My goals and plans to achieve them will look very different from those of someone who practices in New York City in a large firm and wants to make $500,000 in the next year.  A good plan will reflect and help you clarify your values, priorities, circumstance, and desires.

As you achieve the goals you've identified, mark them off and celebrate these milestones.  At the end of the year, your goal plan is a measure of how far you’ve come.  But your goal plan is not set in stone.  You can, and should, amend and update your goal plan.  You might even schedule a quarterly or semiannual review.  You can add or expand goals over the course of the year.

A goal plan will tie together separate and more detailed plans.  You may have a financial plan or marketing plan.  Both of these will specifically target one aspect of your practice and provide detailed instructions or actions related to that area.  These are supplements to a goal plan, not a replacement for it.  Goals  often require planning on multiple fronts: a goal may have a financial component and rely on marketing to achieve it.

How do I write a goal plan?

First, identify general areas that you want to focus on.  I chose substantive practice areas: appellate, mediation, and freelance legal services.  I also included related professional interests, such as coordinating my local bar association and pro bono targets.  For me, 3-5 broad areas was a good start.

Use S-M-A-R-T goals

Second, set goals within each area.  I like the mnemonic S-M-A-R-T goals.  This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely goals.    

Be specific in your goal setting.  In my appellate practice area, one of my goals is to “do one pro bono appeal.” 

At the end of the year, you should be able to measure whether you’ve achieved your goals.  Here, it may be helpful to use quantitative, rather than qualitative, criteria.  This might read, “brief and argue 3 cases before the Colorado Supreme Court or Court of Appeals.”  At the end of the year, I can measure whether I have achieved that goal or  can measure my progress towards reaching that goal.

Goals should be achievable.  I like the bulk of my goals to be ones that are within my reach (or should be based on the methods I’ve identified to achieve them), but are not necessarily already things that I am confident of achieving.  They’re goals, after all.  This isn’t a to-do list or a regurgitation of prior accomplishments.  I also like to include a few “stretch goals.”  These are goals that I would like to achieve but might be a little far out of my grasp—for now.  I like to use a range and set the upper end as my “stretch goal.”  For example, I might set a goal to mediate 5-12 disputes in the next year.  At the upper end of the range, that’s 1 mediation a month.  This might not be immediately feasible as I develop a new practice area, but it is not patently unattainable.

Focus your time and energy on relevant goals.  I have many goals in my life, as broad as “travel more” and as specific as “learn how to knit.”  Although those are great goals, they do not have any relevance in my professional life.  It is certainly possible that a goal might touch on both your personal and professional life, such as “make more time to spend with the kids.”  That is fine, but keep your goals focused on things that are applicable to your law practice.

Identify timely goals.  I goal plan for a year at a time, and many of my goals can be achieved within that time.  Some goals, particularly your “stretch goals,” may take longer to achieve.  You should identify long-term goals, but break those goals into their constituent parts that can be achieved on a shorter time scale. 

Resources - Networking - Marketing


Third, identify how you will achieve your goals.  I break this into three parts: resources, networking, and marketing. 

For each goal, identify what resources you either need or already have to achieve the goal.  If your goal is to be certified or competent in a particular area, educational resources could include books, courses, or CLEs on the subject.  Are these resources something you already have or to you need to go get them? Are there free resources out there or do you need to pay for them?

Be sure to include networking in your methodology.  Essentially, this is ‘who do I know?’ and ‘who do I want to know?’  Identify the people in your life who can help you achieve your goals.  Make a plan for how to connect with them, how to ask for their help, and how to nurture that relationship.  Look around and see who else you would like to bring into your network.  Are there experienced practitioners who can mentor you, act as a sounding board, or introduce you to others?  Thankfully, I have found that lawyers are usually incredibly generous with their time and are happy to share their expertise and provide guidance to other lawyers.

Identify how you can make those connections and take advantage of existing programs.  The Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program does a fabulous job of creating and fostering mentor-mentee relationships based on specific criteria, such as substantive areas or practice settings.    One of my networking methods in my mediation practice area is to contact one mediator a week to introduce myself and chat about mediation in Colorado.  

In your goal plan, broadly identify what marketing tools you will use to help achieve your goals.  I have a detailed marketing plan that breaks down media platforms, content, and frequency.  Keep this goal plan at a higher level, but answer: i) who I want to reach, ii) how will I reach them, and iii) what do I want to say about myself.  Part of marketing is establishing yourself as an authority on an issue, so write an article for a bar association or give CLE presentations. 

Finally, prioritize your goals.  I go with: high, medium, and low.  This helps ensure that you aren’t investing time and energy into activities you don’t actually care about or that yield a low return on investment.

Share your thoughts

I hope this is helpful and encourages you to develop your own goal plan.  I would love to hear about your experiences with goal planning.