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Preparation and Use of Personal Attorney Business Plans

By Joel A. Rose

Personal goal setting has become a popular and effective management tool that has been implemented by partners and associates in many of the more financially and professionally successful law firms.

Properly conceived and implemented, the personal goal setting process allows attorneys - individually and in concert - to tailor their personal and professional activities to enhance their performance and to progress the firm in the future. The planning process will foster communications between attorneys and lawyer management and create a sense of "ownership" and common direction. Further, properly implemented, the individual planning process will build "emotional and financial equity" between the attorneys and the firm, as opposed to only financial equity.

Although personal goal setting should by definition be individualized, it must of course align with the needs and culture of the organization. Every firm should therefore reflect on the qualities that its lawyers must embody to achieve success. These qualities will differ from firm to firm.

Preparation and Use of Personal Plans

Personal business plans can be introduced most easily and effectively in firms whose compensation systems have sufficient flexibility to recognize each individual's total contribution to the firm. By contrast, it is difficult to achieve maximum benefit from personal work plans in firms that have lockstep or other seniority-based compensation systems.

Procedurally, the first step in creating a personal business plan is performed by the partner, who completes a goal-setting form using approved guidelines (see below, Tips for Creating a Partner's Customized Model and Plan). This requires the partner to develop personal goals, and also promotes a sense of proprietorship. The completed form is sent to the managing partner or to the partner's practice group chair for review. The managing partner or the practice group chair meets with the partner to discuss the model, consider alternatives, and eventually approve the model.
The planning exercise itself requires partners to think about both their targeted individual production and the nonbillable activities they wish to pursue. In effect, the completed personal plan defines a partner's commitment to the firm for the coming year and establishes guidelines for accountability.

The plans for all attorneys in each practice group are reviewed and approved by the practice area chair, the department head (if applicable), and finally by the managing partner. Members of the firm's Management Committees are given copies of all models. Department heads have copies of all the models of partners in their respective departments. Practice group chairs have copies of all the models of partners in their respective practice groups.

When discussing plan-performance discrepancies with individual partners, managers should consider amending their plans as well as their behavior. Plan amendments should not be a common practice, but there may be situations where an adjustment is warranted; this helps eliminate surprises at year-end.

In addition to these quarterly reviews, firm managers should meet with each partner annually to discuss and approve the partner's performance model for the next year.

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