Mission statements for law firms are rare. But a good mission statement is a fundamental communication tool and building block for modern businesses. In this post I look at the purpose of mission statements and also from my experience, the best process of agreeing on and drafting a statement.
What Is A Mission Statement?
Why do most organisations have a mission statement? Below are a selection to consider. Put aside your view of the brand, and think about the message:
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.”
These statements clearly satisfy the fundamental test of a good strong mission statement – that it demonstrates not only the language of the organisation, but also the key characteristics of credibility, uniqueness, specific ability and aspiration.
Do law firms need a mission statement?
You might be clear about the values, aims and reason for existence of your law firm, but not everyone in the practice or your clients and business partners – your “stakeholders”, may be as clear.
A mission statement could help your stakeholders understand who you are, what you stand for, and what differentiates you from the competition.
A mission statement needs to act as an overview or summary of a law practice’s purpose, and reason for being. It should:
- engage clients, employees and Partners/Directors.
- define the limits of its operation.
- help differentiate the practice from others.
- define the practice’s aims and aspirations.
- state the core values.
A question often asked is how long should a mission statement be? Short, narrow statements can act as a constraint. Likewise broad statements, while resolving the issues associated with a narrow statement, can in themselves fail to define clearly the market and services that are at the core of the practice.
Partners: Is this worth the time and effort?
Is the process of working out and arriving at a well thought out and positive mission statement a worthwhile exercise for Partners? In my opinion, absolutely – it’s an opportunity to distill the element of the legal practice and work out – what is unique about our law firm, and why should our target clients see us rather than the competition who do the same work on the same street/business park?
How do we form a mission statement?
Now for the biggest challenge: How do we form a mission statement which could be supported and acted upon by all?
This may seem not so hard but in fact finding a statement that everyone agrees on could be a very time consuming and unpopular task for all concerned!
A Suggested Starting Point
I have found it helpful to start by reviewing key documents and plans; engagement letters, business plans, client feedback forms, etc – how does the law firm and its clients view the business? What are the key aims for the future? Could the mission statement be comprised of the key elements of the client care information?
A process that uses document(s) that have already been approved by the leadership could result in buy in and belief (and vitally agreement) from the start – a positive first step forward.
But could a mission statement based on existing documents represent the present or be a statement of past achievement with little forward thrust or vision? Possibly, but having agreed the basics, we now at least have the foundations to achieve a vision and strategic momentum to the mission statement for all stakeholders to engage with.
Completing The Process For All
A solution that I have used is to work with the top level management to focus on forming a statement of strategic intent for the practice. Just the change in title and focus away from “mission statement” seems to engender more forward thinking and focused thoughts.
The focus needs to be on how this statement could be perceived by clients – do they want to know that your aim is to be a “regional powerhouse”, or will they want to know you are working towards delivering new innovative cost effective legal solutions that meet their needs?
Try to keep the strategic intent short, tight and deliverable over the near and longer term. If the strategic intent is well thought out, it should be the key foundation of any plans and decisions that management makes for the practice. All Partners should be able to identify and associate with the strategic intent and its meaning for them.
Conclusion: Why the two stage approach?
Even though the two stage process looks odd it seems to work – perhaps because starting with existing documents is not too much of a radical departure from our comfort zone. So instead of “dreaming up” a mission statement from scratch, we look closely at what we have defined already as our purpose and reason for being. This process enables everyone to engage at an agreed starting point and encourages ownership and responsibility from the outset.
Over the coming weeks I intend to look in more detail at the construction of a mission statement and strategic intent for law practices based on what I have outline here.
Can I help you?
Introducing an external experienced professional can help with focusing on the task of forming a mission statement, and can improve prospects of an agreement being reached on a mission statement. I am available as a Freelance Practice Manager to assist you with your mission statement, or on any other practice management issue. Please contact me through LinkedIn.
Author: Paul Wood, MA.
Date: 11 July 2016.
About the Author: Paul, a freelance and independent practice manager and mentor. He offers law practices his experience and expertise in legal practice day to day, as well as, strategic management support. Paul has 38 years of experience and knowledge in private practice, with the last 17 being a practice manager / director. He studied for his MA in Practice Management while in full-time employment. Paul was a guest speaker at the LMS Lexcel Annual Forum (2008) talking about “The Reality of Quality Standards”.