Steps to Success: Developing a Personalized Professional Development Plan

As we look forward to 2015, many legal marketers are focused on budgets and practice team plans. However, with the promotion of new partners in the New Year, it is important to be mindful of the strategies legal marketers can use to help these new partners develop personalized, professional development plans. These strategies include educating partners on the importance of an individualized business development plan; outlining the steps necessary for the plan to be successful; and establishing routine follow up to gauge the plan’s success.

Attorneys often fall into two professional development camps: those who jump right in and those who have no interest. Regardless of the category that describes the new partners at your firm, you should take the initiative to educate them regarding the importance of professional development planning. Professional development plans can be tailored to achieve a variety of goals, including the identification of a new client prospect pipeline; the development of methods to build and cultivate business relationships; the organization of non-billable hours to use the time more efficiently; or simply the enhancement of professional skills and competencies. Developing a personal professional development strategy is extremely valuable to attorneys, as it allows them to work towards identified and measurable professional goals. With a plan in place, attorneys are better positioned to utilize their firm’s legal marketing expertise to assist and collaborate in the execution of their plans. Legal marketers should take advantage of the new partner class’ transition in the New Year to educate them regarding the value of these activities and sell the suite of services provided by your department to enable them to reach their professional development goals. 

Once your attorneys understand the importance of developing a personal strategy, you should begin the process of creating the plan with them. It is important to realize that a professional development plan needs to fit the attorney you are working with. Some attorneys may be interested in developing their practice through visibility efforts, such as speaking engagements and writing activities, while others are more interested in more personal activities, such as asking a potential client to lunch. No matter the preferred tactic, legal marketers should help the attorney play to their strengths and comfort level in order to make the most out of their efforts. These efforts should include the identification of a wildly important goal (“WIG”). A WIG should be a proactive goal that the attorney can control. The WIG should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely (“SMART”). For example, while an attorney may identify a goal to “increase business 3 percent in the next calendar year” – and the attorney’s personalized plan may be designed to reach this mark – this goal is technically out of the attorney’s control and therefore may not be achievable or realistic. A better goal would be, “Target 10 new or existing clients through various activities to increase new matters in the next calendar year.” This goal is specific and measurable (Did the attorney target 10 new or existing clients?), achievable and realistic (The goal of targeting clients to increase business is achievable and the number of client prospects is realistic as long as the attorney follows through.), and timely (There is a timeframe established of the next calendar year.). Once determined, the legal marketer and attorney should discuss activities to successfully accomplish the WIG. The attorneys should utilize the legal marketer’s knowledge of larger strategic initiatives within the firm as they think through the steps they need to take to accomplish their WIG. Keep in mind, these steps within the plan should also be SMART activities.

Once a professional development plan has been created, the role of the legal marketer becomes one of support. Legal marketers should consistently follow up regarding the progress of the personal professional development plan based on a pre-determined timeline. You may follow up as milestones approach or on a quarterly basis. Regardless of the timeline, continued communication is crucial to success. While legal marketers hope their attorneys will ask for advice or reach out for support, marketing professionals also need to be proactive by forwarding materials that may be helpful to the attorneys in reaching their goals, as well as through pre-planned follow up over the duration of the plan. It is key to success to ensure that the attorney is taking the necessary and measurable steps throughout the duration of the plan to meet their WIG. Through this consistent communication, legal marketers can ensure the plan is on track while taking the opportunity to identify areas for support.

As 2014 draws to a close and we contemplate 2015, remember to reach out to your new partner class to develop personal professional development plans. While the chaos of end of year activities and the holidays may seem to reign supreme, remember to educate these new leaders of your firm on the importance of a personal business development plan, outline the steps they should take within a plan, and establish routine follow up to gauge success. If executed correctly, these plans will be worth the time investment now, as they will impact your bottom line through 2015 and beyond. 

By Whitney Krebs, Senior Business Development Coordinator at Epstein Becker & Green, P.C., for the November/December issue of the Capital Ideas Newsletter. 

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