Work + Growth

Why Lawyers Need to Measure Their Progress and Hold Themselves Accountable


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  • To reach your goals, it helps to have a system in place that defines what you’re trying to achieve and how you’ll get there
  • A major key to making progress is to measure where you are so you can evaluate whether you’re on track
  • Setting up accountability structures do not have to take up a large amount of time or be perfect to help keep you moving forward

If a lawyer doesn’t measure it, it doesn’t get done.

This is true for everyone, but doubly so for lawyers. Your desire to progress in your legal career while leading a robust and nourishing personal life requires patience, commitment, and dedication. It also requires setting specific goals (both big and small) and adopting practices that will allow you to make progress towards meeting your goals even in the face of working long hours and juggling life’s other demands. Things don’t just happen. Hope is not a strategy, after all.

Making progress towards your goals requires action, commitment and focus on your part. For most lawyers, this means adopting a system that will allow them to define and measure their progress along the way. It’s often the best way to ensure you get going taking the right action and stay on track, while allowing you to make adjustments or reframe your goals along the way.

Measuring and Accountability Are Key to Doing

Think about your best achievements, as well as those items that you just never seem to get done. When things are being measured, when you know what is and is not happening, do you tend to accomplish more? If you even make a list to track what you’re doing, do you tend to tick through those items more diligently? If you review your habits and organizing techniques, you’ll probably find that the more organized you are in measuring what needs to get done, the more you get done. Otherwise, it’s just guesswork and there’s nothing to put a toehold into. Measuring is how we make progress, because we can see where we have been and where we are, in the context of where we want to be. It also helps us make necessary adjustments and remain motivated, generating a positive cycle of excitement, commitment and action that produces a trail of achievement for ourselves.

Adopting an accountability practice will allow you to measure your progress toward your stated goal and, just as importantly, the lack thereof. It will also result in your building a personal system to make sure that you’re taking the small steps to make real change. Otherwise, and this is an easy trap yo fall into, your goals will simply float along, languishing, or you may disregard them altogether. To better capture this concept, let’s look at something many of our users have dealt with in some way or another: law firm billing philosophy and practice.

Legal Bills: An Accountability Tool Example

Many of our users are already using a very common accountability tool by billing for their time every day. Okay, maybe it’s more like weekly, but we understand how hard it is to get those hours and descriptions in. But whether a matter is done on a flat fee basis or hourly billing basis, in their purest form legal bills are accountability tools. The client is holding the firm accountable for providing high quality legal service, in a timely manner at a pre-set or reasonable cost. Going a layer deeper, there’s also an implied requirement that the lawyer make progress toward meeting the client’s goals in an efficient matter. The requirement to generate a bill essentially holds lawyers accountable to their clients to accurately capture their work via tracking their time.

What really happens when you’re accountable–and this is what results in such effective action–is that there’s an underlying threat of negative consequences. At law firms, or other work environments, the accountability structures are pretty clear and so lawyers tend to do what needs to get done, for the senior associate, partner, client, or whomever. But what about you as an individual? Are you holding yourself accountable to what you want to get done that is not categorized by a client/matter number? In the absence of an accountability structure from an individual perspective, it’s too easy to excuse yourself for not doing what you need to do and, in the end, your goals will remain more of an idea than a reality.

Implementing Personal Accountability Structures

This is where having a robust accountability structure can help you to continue making progress towards achieving your goals. So what does accountability look like in practice? First, you should select one or more accountability partners. Creating an external (i.e., outside yourself) force that will hold you to task makes it much more likely you’ll be held accountable. This can be one or more people to whom you will communicate your progress to along the way. For example, meeting up with a friend to work out (hiring a trainer is another example), texting your cousin each morning after you finish your meditation, or sharing a draft of the article you are writing with your friend by the designated deadline.

A coach or professional development or HR team at work is another terrific resource to add to your accountability team. Another powerful tool is setting up standing meetings or calls with your accountability person or team. Adopting this as a regular practice will allow you to share your progress, discuss roadblocks and also receive support and advice that can help you get unstuck or propel you forward in a powerful way.

You Have the Time to Start, Just Start Somewhere

So you may be thinking that this sounds glorious but you are a busy, perhaps at times overwhelmed, lawyer who does not think they can add one more thing to their plate. But here’s the thing — the time you spend convincing yourself you do not have time to achieve your goals is likely sufficient to set up accountability structures and take action. So start small, pick a committed accountability partner and try to have fun with it. Each of you check the other. Do not let each other off the hook. And when you do not deliver (as will likely happen, we are human after all), own it, talk about what led to the breakdown and brainstorm on ways to move ahead and reset the goal. The lapses can be as informative as the successes. Then do your best pick up where you left off. You do not automatically lose all the progress you’ve made by making one slip-up (or multiple ones), you just need to restart the progress train from where you are.

Great leaders and amazing results do not happen by osmosis. In the vast majority of circumstances, deliberate, measurable and discrete steps are necessary to achieve your goals. A robust accountability structure will not let you off the hook or allow you to make excuses for your lack of progress. You are not going to achieve your goals sitting at your desk and thinking about them, hoping for them or deciding you deserve them, without taking any action. Insight without action is just insight. And remember you have not reached this far in your career and educational path doing that either. So refresh your approach and move ahead. Your goals and accountability structures will change with the times and the complexity of your life, but if you commit to embracing an accountability structure and process within each phase and dimension of your life, you will position yourself to achieve what you want and inevitably grow along the way.

What's Next

Think about your accountability system and consider enlisting a partner to help you stay on task for a specific goal you’d like to achieve in the medium-term.