After working with thousands of law firms I can tell you this: most law firms are in survival mode. If an analogy could be made to Maslow’s human needs pyramid, they’d be at the physiological level looking for food and shelter.
We need to start with a mentality shift: in order to run a successful business, your law firm needs to be self-aware. And the best place to start is with your core purpose and your core values.
Before you wince, and I winced too after seeing so many generic and blatantly false corporate BS, we’re not talking about your father’s company’s mission statement here. This is not just all touchy-feely stuff that is half-baked and artificial.
Instead, identifying your core values and purpose is simply a fundamental management technique. All you’re doing is aligning the people in your organization, but at a higher level than the day-to-day battle.
If you’re seeking to change your operations, you have to start with really knowing who you are. If you don’t you will become lost in the management wilderness.
You need a lighthouse that you can see when you’re in unfamiliar territory, and guideposts to tell you if you’re still on track.
The Core Purpose
By way of example, here is Rocket Matter’s core purpose (which took months of discussion to nail). Notice it has nothing to do with making legal software:
Our purpose is our reason for being. It’s not to build awesome legal software. It’s to make life easier for lawyers, not just a little bit, but a whole lot. This has led us to making Rocket Matter faster and easier to use, and we’re always improving.
Jim Collins, author of the business book bible Good to Great, wrote a MUST READ paper on the subject called “Building Your Company’s Vision” (it costs $9 on the Harvard Business Review website and if you think that’s too much money to spend on an item of this importance, then please immediately stop participating in capitalism and proceed to your nearest socialist country). As he explains:
3M defines its purpose not in terms of adhesives and abrasives but as the perpetual quest to solve unsolved problems innovatively–a purpose that is always leading 3M into new fields. McKinsey & Company’s purpose is not to do management consulting but to help corporations and governments be more successful.
Core values are the unchanging, essential tenets of your organization. They should define your law firm now or a hundred years from now. The ones we’ve identified at Rocket Matter are these, which along with our credo, are posted all around our office and are rotated on wall monitors:
Values have no extrinsic monetary value. Rather, they have intrinsic value.
As you can see, our core values are only important to us within our organization. This list of items is what gives Rocket Matter its unique identity and defines the people we hire, who we fire, what projects to pursue, how we approach our work, and how we interact with the world.
From the Collins’ article:
The Walt Disney Company’s core values of imagination and wholesomeness stem not from market requirements but from the founder’s inner belief that imagination and wholesomeness should be nurtured for their own sake. William Procter and James Gamble didn’t instill in P&G’s culture, a focus on product excellence merely as a strategy for success but as an almost religious tenet.
Don’t Rush It
By defining your core values and purpose you are performing more than a touchy-feely exercise. You are creating alignment inside your organization. You are dictating who will fit in, and who will not, what initiatives to pursue, and which to abandon or not start.
But take your time. Don’t rush things. Discovering who you are can be one of the most challenging, and consequently rewarding, management tasks you ever face.