In my article “Does a Law Practice need a Mission Statement?” I looked at why law firms should have a mission statement, and I proposed a two staged approach to creating one.
I looked at how a mission statement can provide a firm-wide focus for strategic development, can differentiate the law firm from the competition, and provide (to both potential and current clients and employees) an engaging synopsis of what the firm is about, and its aims.
In this post I am looking in more depth at the process of creating a strong and unique mission statement.
Who could lead the task, and what is their role?
A co-ordinator for the task of creating a mission statement could be either a Practice Manager, a staff member with responsibility for business development or marketing, or an external consultant with experience in marketing or business development.
A good mission statement is a very unique mix of the best practice business methods and models together with the uniquely different and traditional operational structure of a law practice.
There is no single “one size fits all” solution to creating a good positive mission statement, but clearly choosing something that is not too long, original and compelling with the target audience will be important.
It is the co-ordinator’s task is to use his or her knowledge of how to best exploit and fuse these together that is critical to achieve an outcome for a law practice in the modern world. Although he/she need not choose the content, the co-odinator’s skills in communication and bringing together the stakeholders in unity to distill the grounds for a good statement will be essential.
The four main influences to balance
Creating a mission statement sounds an easy task and it could be – there are many statements that could readily sum up a law practice. But to achieve a mission statement that is original and which properly reflects the full depth of your practice, its worth looking at these four main influences:
– Corporate governance – accountability and regulatory framework, e.g. SRA Handbook and Code of Conduct, Law Society practice notes
– Stakeholders – balance of power and influence of the various stakeholders, e.g. partners, managers, employees, clients, business partners.
– Cultural context – influence of the cultural environment, e.g. practice structure, history, work types.
– Business ethics – expectation of individuals’ ethical behaviour, e.g. traditional professional, stockholder ethics.
These four influences will be of varying strength within a law practice. An imbalance between the four influences can impact negatively on the stakeholders engagement with the process, as touched on in my earlier article. But the potential areas of imbalance have to be worked with and turned to a positive if a law practice is going to create a strong mission statement.
Start with what you know
It could be very easy to loose interest right from the start in both the need to create a mission statement and how to go about choosing one, hence the need to start with what everyone knows and is familiar with.
Before considering the content of a statement, a good starting point would be to engage with as many stakeholders as possible across the practice to seek their opinion and involvement, and most vitally to explain the reason for choosing a mission statement.
Start with the information that is already to hand and familiar, for example, the client care information. Stakeholders across the law practice would normally understand and identify with such information, being in contact with it on a daily basis. At this level the influence of partners and managers would usually provide a balance toward an environment for all stakeholders to feel able to contribute within their comfort zone.
Find the familiar, enhance it with vision
Look at taking the headings, key phrases and words from the client care information and distill these as far as possible to a single phrase or word to form a listing of what matters to the practice. Examples might be: traditional practice, quality, quality focus, client focused, professional ethics, modern, strong long-term relationship, service level, communication, general community, specific community, etc.
As a point to consider, ask yourself if it is necessary to use words and phrases such as, law practice, solicitor, legal advice, court representation? Could these not normally be expected or assumed by a client when looking for or dealing with a law practice?
At this point it is worth being aware that by forming your mission statement this way there is a risk of it being a reflection of the present and the past – the familiar and comfortable. It will need to be enhanced with vision and a strategic intent. In my experience this would be more influenced by the partners and managers and less by the wider stakeholders as suggested in the previous article. Vision and strategic intent will be looked at in a subsequent article.
Balancing influence and power
Importantly, the traditional strong hierarchical management influence of partners and senior managers seems to be less of a influence on stakeholders when I have used the client care information approach. Now I do not claim to know why this is, but it might be as simple as the information being a governance requirement, therefore essential and needing all stakeholders to feel empowered and responsible for its consistent delivery.
Four recognisable components of a strong mission statement
Once you have gone through the creative process you should end up with the makings of a mission statement that all stakeholders can identify with, which can be interpreted as “a generalised statement of the overriding purpose of the organisation” (Johnson & Scholes 2002) and which can be seen as satisfying the earlier stated four influences. From the outside looking in your statement, as Campbell & Yeung (1991) suggest, should have the recognisable components of:
– Purpose – that which distinguishes the practice from other practices and the boundaries of its operation.
– Strategy – acts as a reference point when making strategic decisions.
– Value – inspire stakeholders and the actions of management.
– Behaviour standards – takes account of best practice, ethics, culture of the practice, law, regulation and compliance.
How might your mission statement look?
Let ‘s return to the four examples of mission statements detailed in the article, “Does a Law Practice need a Mission Statement?”:
Audi – “We delight customers worldwide”
McDonalds – “McDonald’s brands vision is to be our customers’ favourite place and way to eat.”
NHS England – “Health and high quality care for all, now and for future generations.”
BMW – “The BMW Group is the worlds leading provider of premium products and premium services for individual mobility.”
And this is how they could look if they were a mission statements for a law practice:
We delight our local clients.
We aim to be our clients first and only choice law practice.
Delivering high quality legal advice for all, now and for future generations.
XX Law is (name of locality) leading provider of premium legal services.
I hope that my experience has helped you with thinking about how to approach the task of creating a mission statement. If you would like further guidance, would like to consider appointing me to coordinate the task of creating a mission statement, or need assistance on any other management task for your law firm please contact me through my LinkedIn account.
Author: Paul Wood, MA.
Date: 16 August 2016.
About the Author: Paul, a freelance and independent practice manager and mentor offers law practices his experience and expertise in legal practice management support. With 38 years of experience and knowledge in private practice with the last 17 being a practice manager / director. He studied for his MA titled ” Developing a Law Firm using Lexcel 2004″ while in full time employment. Paul was a guest speaker at the LMS Lexcel Annual Forum talking about “The Reality of Quality Standards”.