Phil Gafka, L.E.A.P. Associates, Inc.
Strategic and Business Planning Process for Attorneys
By Richard A. Crane, Esq.
Once again, kudos to Dan Felix, the founder of Lawyers-Connecting, for having another superb speaker at the October meeting of L-C. This time, Phil Gafka, the principal of LEAP Associates, Inc., spoke on the Strategic and Business Planning Process for Attorneys. I’ve known Phil for quite some time, but really didn’t know much about what he does. Now I do.
Phil first discussed the importance of having a Basic Foundation for a business plan consisting of an individual’s business philosophy, core values and principles. Not only having these values, but putting them to use, also known as “walking the walk,” is essential.
Next, Phil recommended having a long-term vision of 5-15 years. I queried him about this, especially since in the present economic climate, “survival” trumps long-term planning. While Phil acknowledged this, he thought that long-term goal setting is still helpful, although perhaps not a priority. Other elements of Phil’s business planning process include having a Mission (something to accomplish rather than the often amorphous Mission Statement), Critical Goal Categories, Setting SMART Goals, Action Steps and Budgeting. Understandably, the limited time for the presentation didn’t provide the opportunity to discuss some of these elements. However, the Strategic and Business Planning Process Flow Chart which Phil passed out was easy to understand, follow and actually made sense. This in and of itself distinguishes Phil from many other coaches (including Lovie Smith?).
Phil then explained the SMART Goal-Setting System which he uses. This was of significant import for me, since goal setting has not been my strong suit. SMART goals are an acronym: S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Attainable, R = Realistic (High), and T = Time Element. The consequences of adopting or not adopting the SMART system are often the key to business success, just getting by, or failure. I thought there was one missing element to the formula: Accountability. I’m a sole practitioner, and it’s difficult to hold oneself accountable when trying to implement the SMART System. Perhaps I’ll institute ASMART System of my own.
The SMART system, including writing down goals to accomplish every day, and then prioritizing them, isn’t brain surgery, and there are almost as many business coaches as attorneys. However, Phil is able to distinguish himself from most others by being able to call upon his vast business background and experience, including being the CEO for a number of large businesses, to help make individuals SMART by designing an individualized approach that is specifically designed for each individual and business.
Like most businessmen, it has always been extremely important for an attorney to differentiate himself or herself from other attorneys, not an easy task under the best of circumstances. People presume that attorneys know the law, so in this context knowledge of the law isn’t a distinguishing factor. Making it more difficult to stand out among the masses, there are over 60,000 active attorneys in Illinois, 40,000 or so who practice in the Chicago Metropolitan area. Only New York and California, with about 100,000 each, have more attorneys than Illinois. In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, when England faced economic problems of their own, Dick the Butcher suggested “The first thing, kill all the lawyers.” A bit extreme, but if this policy was adopted today and somehow I was spared, it would certainly make differentiation a lot easier.
Phil did note that attorneys, like most other businessman, must adapt today’s rapidly changing business environment in order to have a successful practice. No longer can an attorney sit back and rely solely on referrals from existing clients. I can certainly appreciate this. About 4 years ago, I didn’t have a website, used AOL for my business email, and thought “networking” was something fishermen do when their net breaks. Fortunately, I’ve come a long way. My website is r-cranelaw.com and my email is rcranelaw.com. I’m still not sure what networking is, but at least I figured out that it has nothing to do with fishermen.
Rich is an attorney (www.r-cranelaw.com) who concentrates in corporate and real estate law. He is both a general member and a member of the Board of Directors of Lawyers-Connecting.