What’s the point of New Year resolutions?
Having a clear vision
For some of us a new year is the impetus needed to decide it is time to improve in some way e.g. to feel young again – this usually results in failure because there is no real plan as to how to go about it. Instead, it usually consists of a list of things we like being trounced such as drink less; be less inactive; eat less etc. Such aspirations fail because we don’t set realistic and achievable goals to fulfil them and don’t really think about what was the essence of said ‘feeling young’ – it might have nothing at all to do with drinking less etc.
Others set very specific targets e.g. get some sunshine – and so decide to leave these shores in January for a holiday abroad in a sunlit country. It hits the right note and provides a limited feel good bounce.
Yet more of you might simply be glued to the computer screen completing tax returns in order to meet the 31 January deadline and have no time to make silly New Year resolutions! As a result, you will be doing the same thing next January, I bet.
Whichever group you fall into, have you ever sat back and thought about what might really make you feel good (if not young) and actually how this might be achieved? How will you feel to have what you dreamt of actually happen?
Just before Christmas I bumped into an old trainee solicitor of my firm going home from his office, who some years since set up in business on his own as a criminal lawyer. It was 8.30pm or so in the evening and he said that he had to undertake Wills and Probate after office hours to fill the income gap from his main criminal practice as the fees were so poor. Asked if he would be attending the special general meeting at the Law Society over the vote of no confidence in the Chief Executive and council over their approach to the reduction in criminal legal aid he opined that he would not but hoped that the vote would be won by the protagonists and that the Chief Executive and Officers would lose their jobs since he was losing his livelihood.
How does this affect me?
Now all this has got me thinking. Is it only when our own special interests are threatened that we look at how our representative body works; makes decisions and how we might influence that process and outcome? Do we really understand what our colleagues in different areas of the law are actually doing? If we are an equity partner or member of a professional service firm do we actively take the time and trouble to understand the way in which profit is generated or lost from the work undertaken by each other in different fields? Do we ever think about the costs of diversifying and re-skilling and the risks of doing these things badly when the competition might be able to do more with less?
Alright how might I actually make it happen?
If we want to achieve a change in direction in our own lives; our firm and our profession do we not have to reflect first on what is going on within and around us? In business terms conduct a SWOT analysis (what are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and a PESTEL analysis (what is going on in the outside world in politics, economics, society, technology, environment and law which affects what I do?)
Then we should get our facts straight – the grass always seems to be greener on the other side of the fence. Again in business terms, we need to gather research and be clear of the key trends.
At this point the radical among you will try standing in the future and describe it. So if it is for yourself you might say ‘I plan to retire from practice in 2020’ and in 2020 it will look like this: I will have no borrowing; I will have successfully passed on my clients without paying run-off insurance; I will have a fully funded pension or an income of £40,000 from investments and I will be healthy.
To achieve this you have six years if you start from where you are now to achieve your goals so you then need to design the steps needed to take you there. You may find along the way some of your future vision is unrealistic or pessimistic and you can adjust your steps and tweak your vision along the way but at least you will know what factors has caused the changes and you will be fully aware of what this means for you – it will not be a shock. You will have a ‘plan B’.
Equally, if you are keen to change the direction of your firm from say a criminal law practice to a private client practice you need to do the same – what on earth does a privately funded legal practice look like? Do your research and not just assume it will be better than what you enjoy right now. Consider how you will move from a publicly funded practice to a fully privately funded practice over the relevant time frame with all the right skills. Would anyone realistically suggest this could be safely done overnight? It takes time, effort and money.
What if you care about what has happened to your area of law and the rule of law? What if you have been surprised by the level of feeling over the campaign over the regulation of Will writing or the reduction in legal aid? How involved would you like to be become to see a change in the way the profession and the law itself is organised? It would certainly help to have a vision and a plan. I would always vote for someone who could inspire me.
So I guess a new year can provoke some serious thinking. We now only have to decide to what extent each of us wishes to be part of the solutions?