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It seems that every solo lawyer I meet has a list of things they would like to be doing better in their practice. Sometimes the motivating factor is business growth, sometimes it’s efficiency. At the heart of many “to do” items, though, is a desire to create a more ethically sound practice. Where do you start?
If you hung your shingle with little guidance or infrastructure, the list of things that could be upgraded and shored-up can be overwhelming. The choice is not to either change everything at once or do nothing at all. The route to moving forward is to set reachable goals. Change one thing at a time until your practice is well-guarded against common ethical violations.
This is not the time to list out the things you need to improve; that is a post for another day (and past posts on Attorney at Work will give you ideas on how to start). This is the time to think creatively about setting goals for your practice.
We tend to think of setting goals as sitting down and making a list of needs to get done. Perhaps that list includes individual deadlines for each item. The longer that list becomes, the less likely we are to actually do anything on it. The psychological impact of its sheer length shuts down our motivation and crushes any belief that we can succeed.
Keeping in mind the need to go beyond a never-ending list, here are some of my favorite creative ways to set goals:
Straight-up incentivize. Bribes are not just for getting children to behave; we can bribe ourselves, too. Grab a short list of tasks, and promise yourself a reward for completing them within a certain period of time. Then follow through on the reward just like you would for your kids!
Make it a game. At the risk of sounding like Mary Poppins, introduce an element of fun or gaming. You could take your to-do list and turn it into a BINGO board. Make each item a bingo square; pick tasks to do each day to complete a winning bingo line, and then go for a “blackout” (finishing the whole board). Take your favorite game, and adapt it to your specific goals.
Timeline your plans. At TBDLaw, some of the most innovative thinkers in law have introduced me to two timeline tools for long-range planning. They both make a long-term plan for improving a practice feel very manageable, and they can be used with a long list of goals.
Triage. No matter which type of goal setting system works for you — even if it is that long to-do list — make sure you triage your tasks. It is easy to get on a roll making a list of all the things you want to change and begin including really minor items — things that only make the list longer and not really better. Prioritize what needs to be done by four codes:
More important than which method you choose is that you choose something and run with it. If you realize there are things you should be improving, do not sit on your hands. Take a crack at organizing your goals in a way that will be motivating and fun, and see the result of an improved and more ethically sound practice.
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