Writing a Statement that Conveys the Firm's Mission

by Joel A. Rose

Skip the syrupy stuff. Purge the platitudes. Cross out the self-congratulations.

When it comes to writing a law firm mission statement [one that has meaning] dig deep into what a firm and its partners are really all about.

Simply put, a law firm's mission statement should describe in writing the firm's purpose, its reason for existing, the partners' perceptions about what are the firm's values and what the partners intend to do to compete effectively in the marketplace.

The process of formulating a mission statement calls for the partners to evaluate the firm and what it stands for, so that they may identify those standards or benchmarks that are both meaningful and that may be measured.

To be effective, rather than merely a collection of sentences containing politically correct, gratuitous generalizations that may apply to any law firm, your firm's mission statement should be drafted with the approval of an overwhelming majority of partners who represent all levels.

It should truly be representative of a shared vision of the partners.

How to start? When preparing a mission statement for a law firm, it is my usual practice to:

  • Articulate the firm's purpose and reason for existing;
  • Identify those professional and business characteristics that contribute to making the firm unique and that differentiate it from its competitors; and
  • Identify the present and potential geographic marketplace in which the firm intends to practice.

Unless the partners can reach a consensus about the above three strategic issues, it is more than likely they will not be able to identify specific objectives and determine in advance what steps need to be taken, by whom and in what sequence, to achieve their professional and economic objectives for the firm and themselves.

When writing the mission statement, it is best to limit the statement to no more than four or five paragraphs. The statement should identify:

  • The firm's principal objectives;
  • The firm's broad substantive practice areas and the market it wishes to serve; and
  • What it is about the firm that makes it unique, or what differentiates it from its competitors.

Also, the statement should be inspiring and be relevant to the interests of the partners. Remember, the partners are the ones who will be expected to adhere to the mission statement.

Here is one example of a mission statement excerpted from a high quality and profitable firm in the Western part of New York state. This example also identifies the partners' objectives for adopting this mission statement.

"It is our firm's mission to provide high quality legal services, and to keep pace with and to anticipate the needs of those existing and potential business and individual clients we serve in Western New York state, in a manner that adheres to the highest standards of excellence and integrity, in a timely manner, at fees that our clients are willing and able to pay and that are fair to our firm."

The firm's partners went on a retreat where this mission statement was adopted. After much discussion, the partners' objectives, incorporated into this statement included:

  • Delivering high quality legal services to businesses and individual clients;
  • Increasing the firm's market share by satisfying the needs of existing clients and anticipating their needs in the future;
  • Adhering to the highest standards of excellence and integrity;
  • Performing legal work in a timely manner; and
  • Charging fees that were appropriate for the clients being served, and that were fair to the firm.
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