8 Core Value Steps toward a Purposeful Law Firm

“I stopped living according to my Core Values. I knew what I was doing was wrong but thought only about myself and thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to.”

–Tiger Woods

Tiger was quoted with this remark right after his drama emerged about his many indiscretions. Sure, this happened years ago but there is a lesson to be learned from it today.

Do you and your firm have a set of Core Values?

Many Entrepreneurial Attorneys I’ve worked with through the years, think the concept of Core Values is just a new way of saying “Mission Statement” kind of like the summary of what your company is about or what you stand for

In my 29 years of being an entrepreneur, I have found that at their very best, Mission Statements allowed me time to sit and actually think about the manner in which my company was going to be viewed by our clients/customers, staff, vendors and trade media. It also gave me something to hang on the wall in a nicely matted frame.  But I rarely visited them again until we moved, sold or closed the doors.  Mission Statements simply never got the job done for me.

So, when I first heard about “Core Values,” I too made the initial assumption that this was a new coat of paint on the same old jalopy.  But I was wrong.

Core Values do not mean the same thing as Mission Statements.  Core Values are those items that create the culture of your firm.  They set the standard for those staff you hire and potentially fire.  Core Values are the starting and potentially ending points of every decision you make.  If an action you are questioning violates a Core Value, you simply decide to not move forward with that action.  Core Values are your firm’s ground zero.

Now, here’s the thing.  Creating Core Values is not enough. Tiger Woods claimed to have had Core Values but stopped living them.  When he did that, he made a single bad decision that lead to another bad decision.  And, before he knew it, he became completely out of sync; and his life, as he knew it, had changed dramatically.

History books are filled with people and companies who made bad decisions.  While I do realize there is blatant stupidity, negligence and pure evil in the world, I believe most of those we read about didn’t start out with the intention to make bad decisions.  I would also venture to guess that many of them had what they considered a set of “Core Values” they lived by.

So, why did they fall?  The answer is simple: the lack of discipline.

The problem is, once we’ve determined what our Core Values are, we then must have the discipline to stick to them, forever.

“The way you do some things is the way you do all things”

Core Values should be a part of the fabric of the business.  We should see them on the website, we should see them hanging in our office.  They should be a part of every team member’s contracts.  Anytime we come to a decision point in the life of the firm, we must run that decision through the gauntlet of the Core Values.  And, each person, must ensure that his or her personal actions, on and off the field of play, match the Core Values of the company.  As a wise man once said, “The way you do some things is the way you do all things”.

If your firm doesn’t have Core Values, get them.  I’ll show you what we did to develop ours in just a few more paragraphs. If you have Core Values, review them regularly and live by them.  If you find yourself violating your own Core Values, stop doing whatever it is right now.  Unwind any decisions not in line with your Core Values and start righting the ship.

So, let’s assume for now that you don’t have a set of (clearly written down) Core Values. What should you do?

First, the idea that Core Values are static and never changing is B.S.  Second, I’ll bet most of you have a set of Core Values you live by.  It’s what helped you arrive at the success you’ve already achieved.  And finally, your firm’s Core Values will appear different when you first begin than after you have developed a larger team.*

For us, in our initial years, our Core Values were based on my “why” statement:

Richard is first and foremost a Christian businessman whose priorities in life are God first, family second and business third. Richard is a man who believes there’s a right way to do things, and those things must be done right to maximize results in your business. If you work with Richard, he will guarantee that you’ll build systems that work and show actual positive results for your business.

He’s a man who’s going to be on time, every time, and if he misses a call or a deadline, you can bet that he’s either in the hospital or dead. He never lies, cheats or steals, and he’ll always use “please” and “thank you,” just as his grandmother taught him. Above all, he abides by the Golden Rule of “Treat Others as I Wish to Be Treated.”

But, today, now that we’ve developed a team we can count on, and we’ve gained clarity on the type of team member we must hire and fire, it was time for a more formalized set of Core Values.

Here’s the simple eight step plan of action we used and you can too:

  1. Find out what other companies that you admire have done. I listened to Darren Hardy talk about the “Non-Negotiables” in his life. We are Dave Ramsey fans around here, so we reviewed his Core Values.  Infusionsoft is a company we work closely with and as Certified Infusionsoft Consultants, we reviewed their Core Values. 
  2. Read about the subject. A book that I feel does a very good job providing a template you can start with is Traction by Gino Wickman. Gino provides a logical process to creating Core Values.
  3. Sit with your leadership team (if your firm is small, say under 5 team members, then everyone is a leader) and start to whiteboard your Core Values.
  4. Create a manageable list. For some firms three Core Values is the right number for others, fifteen makes more sense. There’s no wrong number.
  5. Write a description of each Core Value.
  6. Become inspired to share these Core Values with your team.
  7. Incorporate the Core Values in every aspect of your business. From the About Us page of your website to the walls of your conference room.
  8. Take a pass on any decision that violates or is not in line with your Core Values

These will take some time to hammer out but the process as well as the product are worth it.

When you have Core Values as the filter for your decisions, you will hire better team members, determine which team members should no longer be on your team, and make better decisions.

Building a better law firm, one set of Core Values at a time . . .

Building Better Business Systems For Law Firm Owners