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A Lawyer’s Guide for Goal Setting

After a tumultuous year, it’s no surprise that many of us were stripped of the opportunity to hit our personal and professional benchmarks. As a lawyer, much of what you envisioned for your firm last year likely took a different turn than what you had planned. Now is the time to refresh your perspective and reassess your goals for 2021.

So, where do you start? How do you know which goals are the most lucrative and attainable? How do you know when you’ve achieved them? We are going to share with you one tried-and-true method that we advise lawyers to use to successfully set achievable goals.

The S.M.A.R.T Goal Method

SMART is an acronym based on Peter Drucker’s concept “management by objectives.” This method follows the adage “what gets measured gets managed” and provides an organized, realistic approach to setting goals that can be tracked and adapted.


It’s easy to list a simple goal such as “do more in my community” or “build a larger book of business,” but you need to be specific on why you want to achieve the goal you are setting. Why is it important for you to do more in your community? What would it mean for you to build a larger book of business?

Start by asking yourself what you want to accomplish, why you are setting the goal, and what/who it involves. The more granular you can get, the better you’ll be able to measure.

Example: I want to join at least two organizations before the end of the year to increase my exposure, be more philanthropic, and work on my business development initiatives.


Creating benchmarks for your goals is the only way to visualize progress and achievement. As an attorney whose time equals money, creating a measurable goal should be second nature for you!

For each goal you set, make sure that you can answer the question, “how will I know when it’s accomplished?” If it’s a dollar-based goal, how much? If it’s a specific number of clients, Google reviews, or closed matters, then how many? Assigning a measurable amount will help you feel the excitement and motivation when you get close to the finish line.


Simply put, your goal shouldn’t stretch your current abilities and shouldn’t depend on someone else’s power. For example, an associate wouldn’t set a goal to be named Partner at the end of the year if they just started at the firm. A goal like that relies on outside power to control whether the associate receives the promotion. It’s also not achievable as a first-year attorney. Instead, the goal should be to gain the necessary experience and training to follow that pathway for the future, while ensuring that whatever it takes is realistic and is not tied to limited factors such as finances or other constraints.

Example: I want to complete my CLE requirements in X amount of time so that I can shift my focus to joining a bar association and speaking at a CLE.


A SMART goal must be realistic in that it’s relevant to your long-term objectives and that you are able to commit to it. For example, perhaps you want to work around the clock to build your book of business and create more opportunities for business development, but you also value your work/life balance. This goal would not be realistic for you in the way you plan on achieving it, because the more hours you are in the office the less you are with your family. Take an honest stock of what you must compromise to attain your goal and if it doesn’t fit in with your life, then it might not be realistic for you.


The more organized and in tune you are with your time, the more likely you are to reach your goal. Be sure to set a start date and end date to hold yourself accountable and map out your pathway to accomplishment. If there is no time constraint, then there will be no sense of urgency or motivation to complete your goal.

Overall, setting goals using the SMART method can help you maintain momentum, stay the course, and prioritize what goals matter most to you. By taking the time to jot these points down, you’ll find it much easier to crush your goals at your firm and in your professional life.

To help you kick off your goal setting, we’re offering our SMART goals worksheet as a free download to print for a limited time. Redeem yours below!

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