If you haven’t already, make sure you have specific, measurable, achievable goals for your life and career, and set a deadline for achieving them. Remember, your goals should cover at least these four things:
- How much money you want to make.
- How many hours you want to work (including vacations).
- The kind of work you want to be doing.
- The impact (if any) that you want your work to have in the world.
With your goals in front of you, ask yourself these questions:
- How close is your firm to getting you to those goals?
- How confident are you that your firm will be able to get you to those goals in the next 10 years? —The Small Firm Scorecard
This is a simple way to get perspective on your life and career and clarify your decision making. If your firm is helping you achieve your goals, great! Pat yourself on the back and find something else to read. You don’t need the rest of this article.
If your firm isn’t going to help you achieve your goals, it’s time to acknowledge your firm is a dead end (or at best, a means to an end) and it’s time for you to make some decisions. Keep reading.
First, and before you do anything drastic, take time for reflection.
If you own your firm or are on the leadership team, a leadership retreat is probably in order. If you are solo or an employee, schedule some personal time. In either case, you need time to take stock and do some strategic planning.
Narrowing Down Your Options
Now that you know the status quo is not acceptable, you’ll need to answer some fundamental questions that will help you narrow down your options.
If you are a firm leader, get all the firm leaders to identify their goals. Are they complementary, or at least reconcilable? If so, start working on strategy as a leadership team. If not, it’s time for you to start thinking about when and how to leave.
If you are solo, consider whether you can you achieve your goals if you continue on your own? If not, it’s time for you to start thinking about hiring and growing. If that doesn’t feel like something you can or want to do, it’s time for you to start thinking about getting a job with another firm or company. Either way, you can start working on a strategy for developing your solo practice, hiring and growing, or finding the right job.
If you are an employee, work out what you would need your job to look like in order to achieve your goals, then consider whether your current firm could give you a job on those terms. If so, give them a chance to give you the job you want. If you already know it is time for a change, there is little risk. If they say yes, you get what you want. If they say no, you’ll know it’s a dead-end and it’s time for you to leave.
Build Your Strategy by Working Backwards
You already know your current firm can’t (or won’t) help you meet your goals. So what would your firm need to look like in order for you to be able to meet your goals there?
Describe that firm in detail. Draw up an org chart. Sketch a budget. Describe its marketing, technology, and workflow strategies. Identify any other defining features of the firm.
Then, imagine retracing your steps from that firm to your firm or career today. Draw the roadmap from here to there. It may be as simple as finding that firm and getting hired. But there are probably a few more steps along the way. If so, lay out annual goals for the next 5-10 years, or however long you think it will reasonably take you to get there. For the next 12 months, set quarterly goals. For the next quarter, set monthly goals.
Then get to work.
Taking the First Big Step
When you have finished this exercise you should have a clear path forward, from where you are now to where you want to be. You’ve already made the hardest decisions, like whether to stay at your current firm or leave. All that’s left is execution.
Admittedly, deciding to leave and submitting your resignation are different things. It’s like the difference between deciding to go cliff diving for the first time and actually stepping off the edge into thin air. It’s easier to walk down and spend a normal day at the beach. It’s easier to bury yourself in the day-to-day work of your law practice.
But here’s the thing: if you do that, you’ll never achieve your goals. You’ve already recognized that.
Take a deep breath and jump.
What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the most likely bad thing that could happen?
Those are the questions I always consider when deciding whether to take a chance. If I can accept the answers, I jump. The worst thing that could happen usually isn’t all that scary once you compare it to the certain stagnation of doing nothing.
It helps to have a support network, too. Find some friends similarly situated and agree to meet weekly or monthly to support each other and hold each other accountable. Hire a business or career coach. Join an online community.
But above all, just get started.