The Mission domain, sometimes expanded to Mission, Vision, and Values, should be the North Star of your operation. It is why you have a law practice to begin with—your declaration of purpose—and it should both encapsulate and permeate who you are as a business.
I’m always surprised at the number of lawyers I meet who either don’t have a mission statement (about 75% by my unofficial polling), or who wrote something at some point but haven’t looked at it since.
I’m also surprised at the number of lawyers who dismiss having a mission statement as “a marketing thing.” First off, ignore those “marketing things” at your own peril. But, more importantly, limiting your notion of Mission to one part of your business is dangerously siloed.
Yes, one role of your Mission is to attract customers. But its most important job—the one that too many people miss—is to both inspire and focus your own behavior.
A good mission statement should get at answers to at least two questions:
- Who do we serve?
- What are the problems they have that we help solve?
Some mission statements go on to answer other questions (How? Why?), but only the first two are strictly necessary.
Instead of diving into details, it is far more important that your statement resonate at all levels of your organization. Specifically, a good mission statement should work for:
- You (and any other firm owners or team leaders),
- Your team members, and
- Your customers.
That means something like “Our mission is to make a pile of money for me and my partners by doing legal work for anyone who wants it” isn’t gonna cut it.
Let’s look at a few mission statements that I think are clear, inspiring, and empowering:
- Nike:“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
- Patagonia: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
- Airbnb: “Belong anywhere.”
- Slack: “Making work simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.”
- Lyft: “Our mission is to reconnect people through transportation and bring communities together.”
- Palace Law: “Our mission is to provide justice for the injured in every community”
I won’t go into detail about every little thing I like about these, but I’ll mention three things they have in common.
First, they’re memorable: I can recite most off them off the top of my head, and I don’t even work there.
Next, they’re visionary. As I mentioned at the top of this post, a vision statement is sometimes a separate and complimentary thing to the Mission, but that doesn’t mean your mission statement shouldn’t aim high. “Every athlete in the world.” “Create a world.” “Every community.” They aren’t targets that those businesses will ever hit, but that isn’t the point. By aiming high, they, and their customers, will be better for the trying.
Last, they’re personal. They reflect the identity of the business and the customers they are trying to serve. Put another way, they don’t look like they were spit out by a mission statement generator.
Which gets me to the second biggest problem I see with lawyer mission statements: they don’t say anything special. (The biggest is not having one). I’m not going to name names, because I applaud any law firm that actually has articulated and promotes their Mission. But most of the ones that I see are pablum.
Take, for example, this firm’s. They display it prominently on their website and even include photos of it posted prominently around the office (something I strongly recommend). But the statement itself is pretty bland:
“Our mission is to help clients achieve their goals by providing high quality, ethically sound legal counsel and strategic advice. We work with clients to understand their objectives, resolve current issues and proactively anticipate and prevent future problems. We are committed to delivering efficient and cost-effective legal services with a focus on communication, responsiveness, and attention to detail.“
In other words, our mission is to be lawyers. Full stop. Nothing here differentiates this firm from any other law firm in the world.
This happens to be a mid-sized regional firm focusing on business law. Without knowing anything else about the firm or the attorneys who work there, I’d like to see something like:
“Our mission is to guide tri-state businesses through the risks and uncertainties of the legal landscape so that they can pursue their goals with confidence.”
Now this isn’t exactly specific to the firm in question, but at least it’s pithy. And it is framed from the perspective of the customer; reading it, a new client should come away with the notion that “I will have a guide, and that guide will help me meet my goals.” Seems to me like a better feeling than “I’m going to be working with a bunch of generic lawyers who will do lawyer stuff.”
Or take this one:
“Our mission is to provide professional and trusted legal services that assist businesses and non-profit organizations in operating sustainably. We provide expert legal counsel in combination with our own business backgrounds, and deliver valuable services in a timely and cost-effective way. We also live by what we preach—both inside our firm and in our community—by implementing sustainable business practices in every possible way, to help us, and our clients, to become driving forces toward a new economy.”
Here, the impulse is correct, but let’s edit that sucker. Maybe approach it like an entrepreneur: what if you had to pitch an investor on this business? I, for one, would be more likely to buy-in if they used something like:
“Our mission is to empower socially responsible businesses with dependable legal guidance, and to forge a sustainable path to prosperity for our clients and their communities.”
Here’s a rough rule-of-thumb: If you can’t tweet your mission statement, you probably still have work to do. (Especially with the new 280 character limit).
Finally, a good mission statement should suggest some ways to measure whether or not you’re on track to succeed at your Mission. These will be your Goals, and they will be the subject of the next post in this series.
In the mean time, as you can probably tell, I love this stuff. If you’re interested in talking with me about your own Mission, or about improving any other aspect of your organization, please don’t hesitate to start a conversation with me. I’ve helped dozens of law firms and legal teams—both new and established—set a solid foundation for profitability, efficiency, and sustainable growth, and I’d love to help yours too.
P.S. That “pitch an investor” link goes to season 1 episode 1 of the Startup podcast. If you haven’t heard it, I highly recommend a listen. (After season 1 it struggles with focus, but that first set of stories is fantastic).