Four Goals to Set for Yourself

Do you know specifically what you want to get out of your firm—how much money you want to take home, how many hours you want to work (including vacations), the kind of work you want to be doing, and the impact (if any) that you want your work to have in the world?

The Small Firm Scorecard

In order to grow your career and your business, you should always be driving towards specific goals. What’s more, if you don’t have goals, it can be hard to know whether you are growing.

If you aren’t regularly setting goals for yourself already, start now! Set at least four goals for your life and career.

By the way, if you are already setting goals but aren’t achieving them, a small change in the way you set goals may help you get on track.

Setting Goals

Set goals that are specific, measurable, and achievable, and give yourself a date by which to achieve them.

Specific. State your goals clearly.

The harder you try to achieve a vague goal, the harder it will be to achieve. “Get rich” always means just a bit more money than you have now. “Be happy” usually means just a bit happier than you are now. “Save the world”—well, the world will always need saving according to someone.

Try something more specific. Here are some examples:

  • Take a two-week-long, off-the-grid vacation in Thailand next year.
  • Have coffee, lunch, or cocktails with 60 local small-business owners this quarter.
  • Run at least 30 minutes three days a week for the rest of this year.
  • Increase the number of consumers who win their debt collection lawsuits in state court by 10% within 3 years.

Measurable. Put a number on your goal.

The trouble with non-specific goals is knowing whether you achieved them. Did you get rich? It depends on what you meant by rich when you set the goal. Are you happy? That’s even harder to tell. Define your terms.

For example, a better goal than “get rich” might be “Increase my salary to $100,000 (or $1,000,000) within two years.” Instead of “be happy,” you might record how happy you are at regular intervals on a 10-point scale and decide how much happier you want to be as reflected by your logs.

Of course, some goals are easy to measure. Either you took one two-week-long, off-the-grid vacation, or zero. Binary goals are okay, too.

Achievable/Realistic. Set ambitious goals, not impossible ones.

Whenever you embark on a new kind of goal, you will have to calibrate your definitions of ambitious and impossible in that context. Can you get 500 people to open your email newsletter this month? Maybe. If it seems within reach, try it. Use what you learn to set a more or less ambitious goal next month.

Given enough time and steps along the way, you can probably even accomplish impossible goals.

Time-Bound. Give yourself a deadline. It’s hard to prioritize things that don’t have deadlines. We recommend having goals for:

  • This month.
  • Next month.
  • This quarter.
  • Next quarter.
  • This year.
  • Next year.
  • Long-term goals (five and 10 years out).

(For more on goal-setting, Google “SMART goals” or just watch this video on SMART goals. I’ve skipped over the R—for relevant—because all four of the following goals are definitely relevant to your life and career.)

With those guidelines in mind, you should set at least four goals:

How Much Money You Want to Make

Your work has to support your life, and that means you need to take home enough money to have a life.

Make this a goal for your personal take-home pay. If you own the firm, you can work backward from your goal to calculate other financial metrics for the firm, like revenue and profit. If you don’t own the firm, use it to think about ways you can increase your take-home pay, whether that means working more or asking for a raise.

When calculating how much money you want to make, be sure to include money for your personal financial goals. For example, if you are working on paying off credit cards, saving for a vacation, making home improvements, and retirement, account for those goals in your take-home pay.

How Many Hours You Want to Work (Including Vacations)

Your work also has to leave you with time to have a life. It’s okay to work hard; it’s not okay to work all the time.

If you aren’t sure where to set this goal, 30-50 hours per week and 2-4 weeks of vacation per year is a reasonable range for most, and probably better than most lawyers get. It’s normal for lawyers to occasionally work evenings or weekends or pull an all-nighter, but that shouldn’t be your normal schedule.

The Kind of Work You Want to Be Doing

Put another way, are you satisfied with your job, the people you work with, and your clients?

It is actually okay if you don’t care. Some people punch in, earn their paycheck, and punch out. They are able to leave their work stress at the office and go home to their friends and family.

But many people want to be fulfilled by what they do at work. Which is also okay. After all, if you are going to spend a third (or more) of your life working, it should be worth it. And if you do care about the kind of work you want to be doing, you should make it a goal.

The Impact You Want Your Work to Have in the World

Do you want your work to matter in the world? If you do, how will you measure its impact?

Your goal for the impact you want your work to have in the world could be big or small. Maybe you just want to be able to earn enough money from your law practice to put your children through college and retire in comfort. Or maybe you want to put your own children and 10 more through college. Maybe you want to use class actions to hold banks accountable when they violate consumers’ rights.

Here’s an unusual example. Dunlap Codding, an Oklahoma intellectual property law firm, built a community event space and lets organizations use it for free. (Doug Sorocco talked about it in Episode #116 of The Lawyerist Podcast.)

Or maybe you don’t care about the impact your work has on the world. That’s up to you, too. But if you do care, set a goal.

Goal setting is a good idea for every business, law firm or not, but it is especially helpful if you feel stuck, or like you are spinning your wheels. Setting goals is like giving yourself permission to focus on something other than putting out fires, and it is an essential part of working on your business rather than just working.

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