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Melissa Shanahan

#166: Lessons Learned from June Strategic Planning Retreats (Part 2)

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Last week, we kicked off a miniseries on lessons learned from our Strategic Planning Retreats, where you heard some nuggets of wisdom that came out of our last Mastery Group quarterly strategic planning retreat. And as promised, on this episode, Melissa is continuing by sharing some lessons learned from her private client retreats.

Strategic planning is all about sitting down and creating space to evaluate your business. As a law firm owner, there are important milestones on your journey that have to be intentionally addressed, especially if creating an unstoppable machine that is your business is something you want to make a reality.

If you’re on the brink of growing your team, or you’re thinking about incorporating them into your planning sessions and meetings, tune in. Melissa is sharing lessons learned about why your employees need to be considered in your vision, the importance of creating space and support in your business, and an exercise in belief. Make sure to join us next week as Melissa shares even more lessons learned from private clients, including her favorite one.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with me. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. The enrollment window for Mastery Group is open right now, so click here to join us!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• Why, if you want a team, your employees need to be part of your vision.

• The importance of freeing yourself up to facilitate your plans.

• How to give yourself space to focus on implementing and executing your plans.

• Why it’s expensive in the long term to not intentionally create support for yourself.

• How making more money doesn’t have to mean working harder.

• A mental exercise to help you believe your business is a machine that isn’t going anywhere.

Featured on the Show:

Create space, mindset, and concrete plans for growth. Start here: Velocity Work Monday Map.

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#165: Lessons Learned from June Strategic Planning Retreats (Part 1)

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast, Episode # 166.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast powered by Velocity Work for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going. Take planning seriously and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hey, everyone, we are digging into more ‘lessons learned’ this week. If you tuned in last week, you know that I covered ‘lessons learned’ from the Mastery Group Strategic Planning Retreat.  I'm not sharing everything here, I am just looking through them and selecting the ones that I think are universal, and can be applied no matter who you are, where you are.  And, without a lot of context. It’ll probably click with many of you, each one of these. We did that last week with Mastery Group.

This week, I'm going to share some from the private client retreats. Again, these are the Q3 planning retreats, The end of Q2 is when we extracted these lessons, so that we could process the lessons and carry them forward. If you've ever thought about working with us to help yourself get organized, get your house in order, take the next steps that you know need to be taken, and really focus on growth on your own terms, then I highly recommend you look into Mastery Group, as it may be a great fit for what you're looking for, to help support you.  

Mastery Group is a really affordable way to plug in for yourself, in all of the ways that we talked about here on the podcast. Not only giving yourself the opportunity and the ability to have facilitated, for you, a quarterly strategic planning retreat, but then also accountability and coaching, and community in between.

So yeah, look into it, see if it feels like a good fit. We are opening up the enrollment window pretty soon. If you're listening to this live, it'll be this Friday. We're going to open up first to the wait-list, because we do have a certain number that we want in at once, for this round, so we make sure to really be hands on with everyone, make sure everybody gets comfy in.

This Friday, it opens up to the waitlist first. And then, we'll open up to everyone else, assuming we have spots left after that. So, get yourself on the wait-list. You can go to We'd love to have you.

We've made so many really awesome improvements for new members, as they get on boarded this time around. We're giving a lot more, in terms of time and attention, to the new enrollees versus the people who have been in for a while, so that everybody can find their footing. It's going to be fantastic.

If you think you want this for yourself, if you're curious about this, go check out the page so you can learn more and get yourself on the wait-list. I can't wait to work with the next crew, and really get everybody integrated into the current community that exists, who are spectacular humans who happen to own their own law firms. It's pretty remarkable. We invite you to come in.

Okay, I'm pulling up my document here, with the ‘lessons learned’ from private clients.  I'm going to start with one who, this private client is really at the beginning stages of getting the team involved with the planning and the execution of all the planning.

Now, of course, this person, that I'm going to start with ‘lessons learned’, they've had a team, and they've been executing. But this is the first time that they're really even incorporating anyone from the team into these planning sessions and meetings, and having it facilitated, and there's a higher-level responsibility distributed.

So, I'm sharing a couple of lessons from that retreat specifically, because so many of you are on the brink of that or will be soon. You have team members; you have people who work for you and are doing things inside of the firm. But you haven't taken that step as an owner. It's just, you're on the brink of having to take a step, where it makes sense to start including others in strategic planning, and getting around a table every quarter, at least every year.

But every quarter you should be planning, evaluating the last quarter, and planning for the upcoming quarter. If you're at that place where you actually have to start doing that or else; you can see the writing's on the wall. You're not going to be able to fulfill this without their participation, and active participation, in the achieving of something, and helping make decisions; having input in the decisions that it will take to get you there.

That is a very important point in a law firm owner’s journey and there's no perfect time for it. But there is a space where you know, you have a hunch, that this is going to have to come together, in a way, from the team.  

So, that's where this person has been in the last year or so, and has made some of those decisions to actually bring the team into this. So, the ‘lessons learned’, one of them was; if I really want a team, my employees need to be part of my vision.

This is true, if you really want a team, a team that pulls together and accomplishes, and there's a big why behind the what, so to speak, then this team has got to get together and be on the same page. It needs to be stemming from more than just you. There needs to be someone else or a few others where they are in the loop of the decision making, and they can disseminate messages and making sure that execution is happening. And, they can handle a piece of it.  

My whole point, the reason I wanted to share this is, if this sounds like you really stop and think about where you are with this particular universal truth.  Are you ready to take this on as something that's true for you. So again, the lesson was; if I really want a team, my employees need to be part of my vision.

They need to be considered in the vision. They need to be a part of the vision, in terms of execution and really understanding why they're working towards what they're working for. I don't necessarily mean some altruistic ‘why’. Just, ‘what are we doing here?’ Being able to articulate that and be on the same page with that is really important.

If the owner isn't clear on this, then the employees won't be clear on this. If there is a disjointedness there, then you won't really have the team that you want, that's going to be able to carry you towards the vision.

Okay, lesson two; freeing up myself, is the only way I'm going to be able to build my plans. I really liked this because these are so, again, I'm saying this to you guys, I feel I say this with every ‘lessons learned’ podcast. This sounds pretty, this sounds true. We all believe this. But these lessons are coming from a place of experience in a way that it's understood on every level.

It's abided by, on every level, because they really got it this quarter. So, it's different… You know, freeing up myself is the only way I'm going to be able to build my plans. Everybody would agree with that. I mean, to some extent, it's like; well, yeah, you have to free up your space so you can do that.

Okay, but that's so much easier said than done. Actually freeing up yourself to give the space to focus on building the plans, implement and execute the plans, not just serving clients. It's the only way you're going to be able to move in the direction of your dreams. I am putting this here, just as a reminder, we all understand this to be true. But doing it, like why don't we do it?

If I were you, if this resonates with you, and you feel like; yeah, but I don't do that. Or, I'm not doing that as well as I could, and I know that. Sit down and make a list of the reasons why and get very specific. Not because… You can't just write down, too much client work. Okay, client work; try to keep it as objective as possible. Too much is subjective, you take that out of the sentence.

So, it's like, okay, client work. All right, how could you handle the client work in a way that still allows you to be freed up some, and then writing down what's wrong with that. What's in the way of that? What's in the way of that? Keep digging deeper. You can start to see that there's some small actions you could take to line yourself up with freeing yourself up with time.

On this note, I just want to say, I think people hear something like this, and they're waiting for the moment that they can wave a wand and they get this time freed up; that is never going to happen. For many people, they think that hiring an associate is going to wave this wand, it's going crack the code, and they're going to be freed up in a way that allows them to make these huge strides towards their plans. I'm telling you; it doesn't work like that.

Every once in a while, if you hire someone with experience that plugs in, in a pretty great way, then it can happen really fast. But normally it does not happen quickly. Expecting it to happen quickly, expecting it to be this ticket to freedom, is not the wisest way to go.

Well, let me say this. One reason I appreciate strategic planning is that it's really easy to get busy and say, “I need an associate.” That very well may not be your next move. But that's what your brain goes to, because all you can think of is relief. So, when you think of relief, the path of least resistance seems to be; hire an attorney, so I can actually have more space. But that's usually not…

When you're planning strategically, and you're looking at all the numbers, you're looking at all the facts, not feelings. And, you can make decisions about the efforts that actually need to be put into place to move in the direction that you want to move. Sometimes that means hiring an associate.

But oftentimes, it basically means hiring someone to do all the things that you shouldn't be doing, as a lawyer. Someone else can handle certain things that doesn't require you to be a lawyer. People don't hand off that stuff enough before they hire an associate. Many times, that's trying to take a short cut to something when really, you're shooting yourself in the foot. Because it's a very expensive way to free up your time.

I know, you would still probably have profit margin. So, I'm not saying you would be losing money. Although you could, trust me, I've seen that on paper all the time, with associates that come in, and they're barely paying for themselves.

But I mean, it's expensive, because even if you were making a profit margin, it's not going to be as great as if you would have hired first, more administratively, and created more support for the working lawyer, yourself or otherwise. That creates more margin.

It depends, sure, that's a very lawyer thing to say, it depends. But it does; it depends on your practice areas that you have inside of your firm, it depends on a lot of things. But strategic planning sits down to look at those things and to evaluate your business, your thumbprint, and say, “Okay, but actually, if I pulled this lever, that's going to give me more time. If I pull this lever that will also add to give me some time.”

Instead of, “I need to hire an associate,” right off the bat, without looking at all of this. So, when this law firm owner is saying; free myself up is the only way I'm going to be able to build my plans, though that sounds really simple, remember, they give these ‘lessons learned’ before we dig into plans for the quarter. This is just lessons that they've learned from the previous quarter that they've been in, that they're just coming out of.

When this law firm owner is saying, free myself up is the only way, she has experienced getting to the place where she knows that levers need to be pulled, to get her the space that she needs to be able to work on her vision, and on her plans, and actually make the headway she needs to make.  

Okay, so coming to that realization, now, what is going to happen in this day, that we had together, is that we're going to evaluate what levers do we pull to give her more space? Because it's not just out of the gates hiring an associate. That's usually not first. Sometimes it is, but a lot of times, it's not.  

I think, ask yourself, if this resonates with you in a way where you're craving it, freeing up your time, so that you can build out your plans. Then, getting really, really familiar with your business, and understanding your numbers is the way to be able to strategically plan, so that you can keep inching towards more and more and more space for yourself.

Instead of expecting that there's going to be this thing, and once you do that thing, all of a sudden, you're going to have a bunch of free space. How can you get some margin on your time, in the next month or less, without hiring an expensive hire? How can you free up more time?

Get creative. Make a list of 50. What my friend calls, “50 bad ideas”. There's going to be a few good ideas on that list of bad ideas. She calls it that just to take the pressure off of having to have great ideas. You make a list of 50 bad ideas, you circle a few, and you go implement those. And, you get some hours back in a way that is good for everyone.

I wanted to share this just to spark some conversation around this.  I hope this helps your brain think for yourself, right now, where you're sitting; what is the next step to free up some more of your time, so that you can focus? Even if it's just a bit more, you can focus more on the plans that you have for your firm.

Okay, moving on. Making more money doesn't have to be because you're working harder. Now, this one I'm adding in because if you are interested at all in money mindset, you've seen people talk about, and I'm sure that you've heard, that there is a belief that many of us have from the way that we grew up that you have to work harder to get money.

The harder you work, the more money you have. You've likely have heard that that isn't always true; the whole thing about working smarter, not harder. And, you know, when you own a business, yeah, you work hard, for sure. But cranking harder, there's a point where you can't do that anymore.  So, you can't work harder to make more money.

But people have that association: Making more money, you make more money because you work harder, but that isn't true. Even if we know that and understand that intellectually, really getting that, so much so that you operate from a place of that understanding, is a game changer.

You make different decisions. You think differently about the people that you employ. You think differently about your investments. So, making more money doesn't have to be because you're working harder.

There are some clients that really got that this quarter. And, there's a bit of an identity shift for them, that comes with it. It's pretty beautiful. But it's a good lesson to extract. The sooner that you really get this on every level, that you don't have to work harder to make more money, the better off you'll be.

The next one; we’re only going up from here, this firm is not going anywhere. Think about this. As a law firm owner, you have, just as any other business owner, there's all of this pressure initially. When you started this business, you're lifting it off the ground, you're doing what you can. And even if you're pretty positive, and you think, “Yeah, this is going to work,” you’re committed to it. It's going to work because you're saying it's going to work. You're going to figure it out, and so it works, which is fantastic.

There's always a seed of doubt, in everyone's mind, even the most successful of the successful, that this is all going to go away or something. Like, you're kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop or, you know, there's just this fear.

Because you're really always entering into your next level; and you’ll get comfy there. But you just create a next level. Typically, this is what happens, at least with people I work with. There is a point where most people see and they actually wrap their heads around, “Oh, this isn't going away. We've created something that is lasting, and is here, and there's a stability to it, and there's a foundation. It's not going anywhere.”

That is fascinating. It's fascinating to watch. It's fascinating to feel. I've gone through that with my business, where it's like; oh, yeah, okay. This is a thing, now. This exists in our industry. This is its own entity. We've done a good job getting it to where it is. And of course, there's an evolution and beyond. But it's not going anywhere. Hmm. Now what?” It's just a different way of thinking about it.

Many of you listening to this may have already kind of crossed that line. But I would imagine the majority have not yet. The only reason I say that is because most of the people that have this realization for real, again, on every level, every cell of their being really believes this isn't going anywhere. Then, usually, the people, that in my experience, have been 2 million and above, sometimes more than that, before they really, really get that, in terms of revenue. If you realize it earlier, that's fantastic.

But this is one of those things that you can ask yourself; do I really believe that this firm is not going anywhere? If you can't answer yes, I would write down why. Why can't you really believe that, that it's not going anywhere?

Here's the truth, for the people that I mentioned that really wrap their heads around, it's just a set of beliefs that they have. It's just a belief. Nothing specific happened in the business, and then they're like; oh, now I can believe that. It's just a belief that they chose.

People tend to choose it later and later, because they're the kind of people that look for evidence to decide what they're going to believe. But they could have done that sooner, they could have felt that sooner. When you actually come from that place about…

If you feel that way early on, how would you show up differently? You probably show up more confident. You probably show up making decisions much more quickly. Not stressing out about certain things that currently stress you out, if you feel like your firm could go away.

I think it's important to realize that I'm offering this, because there's a point on with this client, their journey, that this clicked in for them. But you don't have to wait till you get to 2 million. That wasn't my point earlier, in sharing that. It's common, because 2 million and up is when people start to really realize; oh, wow, this is just a machine that's flowing.

That's why I think that they see the machine happening, and that's what makes it easier for them to have the belief; this isn't going anywhere. This is a machine. But you can have that sooner. I'm offering it here. I want you to take that for your own. Why can't you believe that about your own firm now? What would have to change, in order for you to believe that? And, go, go make those changes.

Again, nothing has to change for you to believe that right now. Nothing. But it's a really great exercise to think through why you're choosing not to believe that right now. And, whatever your answers are, there's really great action that you should be taking in your firm.

Those are great, probably likely, great Rocks for your quarter. Like, one on the list of things, should probably be addressed this quarter. You should be moving in the direction of building that machine, so to speak, so that you can actually live into this I idea that; this firm isn't going anywhere. It's a good mental exercise.

Okay, that's where I'm going to stop today. Next episode is going to be the remainder of the private client ‘lessons learned’. They're going to be quicker. They're mostly, not all of them, most of them are to do with team, and how to think about your team, and important lessons around leading a team, etc.

I'm going to give those next week, along with my favorite, favorite, favorite, favorite lesson of this batch, this whole quarterly planning that I led. There's one lesson that was worded and framed so well, so I'm going to give that to you next week.

All right, everybody. Have a wonderful rest of your week, and I'll see you here next Tuesday.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called, Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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