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Melissa Shanahan

#235: 2023 in Review: Reflect and Get Clear

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As we get closer to the end of the year, you’re probably starting to think about what’s most important to you and your firm in the year ahead. Whether you're a master or novice planner, the truth is planning for the future will never be as effective or powerful as it can be without first reflecting, evaluating, and pulling lessons learned from everything you’ve been through.

Melissa is here this week to share a workshop called Reflect and Get Clear that she facilitates every single year for her Mastery Group members. It’s a crowd favorite that happens every November before her annual strategic planning retreat so her clients can plan smarter, and you’re getting a taste of it today.

If you want to be guided through a process for reflecting and evaluating 2023 so you can home in on what matters most in 2024, you’re in the right place. Melissa is showing you helpful frameworks for understanding the last 12 months in your business, big-picture questions to guide your thinking about the year ahead, and tools for planning your most optimized 2024.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be opening soon, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• Why reviewing and evaluating your year makes a difference in your future planning process.

• How Melissa helps her clients reflect on the year they’re rounding out.

• Big-picture questions to ask yourself about where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you want to be in the future.

• How to get clear on what you want to achieve in 2024.

• The value of choosing a word of the year in 2024.

• Why you must anticipate the obstacles you’ll face.

Featured on the Show:

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

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Join the waitlist for our next Monday Map Accelerator, a 5-day virtual deep-dive event.

Schedule a consult call with us here.

Vivid Vision by Cameron Herold

The One Thing by Gary Keller

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #235.

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, welcome to this week's episode. We are getting close to the end of the year, and I wanted to share a resource with you all today that I have recently shared with members. This is a workshop I led, called Reflect and Get Clear.

Now, I have led this workshop every single November of this membership’s existence, and it's always a favorite of members. This year, I revamped it big time. It's so much better than it ever used to be, and it used to be good.

So, let me tell you what Reflect and Get Clear is. Reflect and Get Clear is a workshop that is towards the end of the year, I try to do it in November, for people to reflect on the year that they are rounding out, and thinking about what's important to them for the year ahead.

The reason I began doing this workshop is because, in December, we always lead the Annual Strategic Planning retreat for Mastery Group members. This is a comprehensive day where we look at aspects of the business, and they get really clear on plants for 2024. But before they do that, it's very helpful to reflect on the year that they've had from different angles, so that they can plan coming from a better place.

Let me back up for a second, because this is important for you to understand if you care about planning at all. If you are the kind of person that cares about planning, and maybe you've never planned as well as you think you could have for the upcoming year, but you do sit down and you do think about things and you do get intentional about the next year, your plans will never be as good unless you review what you've been through, and you reflect.

Because when you do that, you can pull lessons learned and realizations. It's an evaluation of the firm, an evaluation of yourself as an owner, and an evaluation of the numbers and the data. That's important; you need to reflect and review because that creates a lot of clarity, which allows you to plan in a smarter way. So, this is an important part.

Every private client that we have, every time we get into room with them, we always do a review first, of the quarter that they've just been through, before we plan forward. And so, this is a staple. If you want to be good at planning, you also need to be good at reviewing.

This workshop was a chance for members to do that in a deeper way, because it's the turn of the year. So, that's why this is important.

Here's how we started this. We had everybody pull up in front of them their calendars, pull out any planners or journals that they have. And recently, someone told me to also pull out your phone and look at photos. That surprised me, I wouldn't have thought about that. So, I mentioned that to the group, and many people did, and it made a difference. So, that is something else you can do to help you reflect and review on the year.

What we have them do, once they have all the resources at their fingertips that they want to look back on, we start with quarter one, January through March. I had them go to their calendars and sift through the calendar to remind themselves of what happened. Look at their journals, if they write in journals, and their planners. And some people looked at photos on their phone.

They really get the lay of the land on what was going on in that quarter, and then we ask a few questions. I ask them to come up with a word or a phrase that would describe this quarter. I ask them to note, write down, key events and memories. I ask them what lit them up about that quarter. And, what challenged them in that quarter.

And so, we did this quarter by quarter; we did it for Q1, Q2, Q3 and to date in Q4. At the end of all of that, we have them extract their main takeaways, their main lessons learned, or realizations, so that they can use that moving forward.

Now, what will happen during the strategic planning retreat that we lead for them, we will do this same kind of thing from a numbers’ perspective in the firm. So, if you don't have us to lead you in a retreat, I would put that in the reflect and get clear. I would pull all of your numbers. I would be able to look at them, month by month, for the course of this year; important numbers that will tell you how the health of the business is doing.

Of course, revenue. Of course, expenses. I would break expenses down into people cost and then overhead, which is total expenses minus people cost. I would look at your profit margin. And I would look at the number of matters or cases or files opened, like new files. As well as what was closed. And really, those two numbers are good to have in the firm.

You may decide that you don't need to look at them as often, the number of matters closed, depending on your fee structure. But you still should be able to pull that report. Because if you can't pull that report, it usually means that you aren't closing out the files in your system as they should be. And that makes it very difficult, from an owner’s perspective, to get your hands on numbers when you want to.

People find that out all the time, when they come into our world. They fix it, and they create the ability to do it. But I would track those two things. I would just have a look. It's good data to look at; number of cases opened, and number of cases closed. Get all that stuff in one place, one spreadsheet. You can look at all of the data at once, and really review it and analyze it and dig in.

I'm telling you, month by month is the way to go. Many of you just pull the number for the year, but that doesn't give you much insight as an owner. It gives you some like, of course, you want to see how it all tallied up. But you need to be able to look more granularly than that, in order to really review and reflect and think through.

As you look at your numbers, you'll get curious. “Why was that so high that month?” You'll look back, you'll dig in, and you'll say, “Oh, yeah, that's why that was so high.” And so, this is important as an owner. You really want to feel like you can tie up the year with a bow before you start to plan, for all the reasons I mentioned before.

Because most people don't, and so what ends up happening is they just slam into the new year. It just puts you at such a disadvantage. The clarity that you could get from doing this review, and enabling yourself to plan from a really strong place is the way to go.

Once you've looked back over the year and you've gotten a lay of the land, you really remember what has happened this year, then you can ask yourself some big picture questions, is the way that I frame this. These are questions about you, and also the firm. These are all big picture questions.

Things like: What's changed about you in the last 12 months? What exhausted you this year? Did you even know that at the time? What are some important decisions you made? What have been the byproducts of those decisions that you've made?

Really think high-level, high-quality questions. I'm not going to go through all of them. There are a lot, it'd be really weird to just read question by question on here. But think about what boundaries you should put in place. What do you need to let go of, that you've realized now? What do you need to add, that you've realized now? What are you proud of yourself for?

Those kinds of high-level questions to get your brain cranking on self-reflection and evaluation, so that you can use this information. Those are the kinds of questions.
As you're writing these answers down, as you're thinking through this, and as you're journaling, new questions will appear. So, just stick with this. This is all done for you when you're a member, but…

Again, I actually started to read off the questions. It's not that I don't want to give the questions, but it’d be a really weird podcast episode. And, there isn't a reason I need to do that. So, if you really want facilitation, and to hear what others are taking away as well, you need to get yourself in a Mastery Group. That's this kind of stuff we work on; what new priorities do you have? Yeah.

I think there's also a part of this, that as I said earlier, it's not just focused on you as the owner, but you as the human and your energy levels. So, your state of being, and how is your body doing? How is your mind doing? How are you doing as a whole, and not just from one aspect? That matters in how you show up and what you're able to give to the firm.

Then you can ask yourself questions as they pertain to just being a law firm owner, and your role as an owner. How have you grown? Where do you feel stunted? Where are things gray and fuzzy? What do you understand now, from a data perspective? What do you notice because of the data? What do you want to understand more with data in the future?

So, ask yourself questions, or do evaluations, on leadership for yourself. How are you as a manager? As a leader? Those kinds of things. Really reflect on and think about your role as a law firm owner.

Then we shift, at that point, to questions like: Okay, at this point…; that's the header of this section. So, at this point, you can think about what flux are you currently in. Really recognizing the flux that's there. What are you looking forward to? What do you see as opportunities for improvement?

Really just kind of thinking, “Well, now, here I am. It isn't yet the new year, so at this point, what are my observations? What are my current thoughts? What do I have to say about my firm? About how I show up? About how my team is showing up? About our workflows? Just really analyzing your firm, and how it's going; the health of the business.

Everything I've said up till now, if you really sit down and get quiet and do this work, it's probably going to take you an hour plus. I would be generous and give a little more space than that, in case it does take you longer. You don't want to cut this stuff short. So, an hour and 15 minutes. Maybe you would give yourself an hour and a half, if you're being really generous. Take your time with these answers.

At this point, you've done a lot of reflection on where you've been and where you are now. And so, now you can ask questions about your future. It's important to ask yourself, or just to think critically, about your future, and about what you want to create for the firm, before you start digging into nuts-and-bolts plans. You have to be able to see something that you want to create, that you want to move towards.

And when you really think through those ideas that you want to implement, the things that you can see, and you look at it from different angles, stress test those things. Are those the most important things that need to be done? Are your hunches right about that? Is there something else that's more important, but you just don't want to face?

Really make sure that your vision is the best thing for the company, the vision that you have for next year. Not just in terms of revenue, not just in terms of team size, but how you want it to feel and to be inside of the firm as you grow. This portion that we're moving into is about getting clear about that for next year.

Some things to take into consideration are: What you’re going to take more time for. What you’re going to pay more attention to. What you're going to say no to. What you're going to say yes to. Deciding where you want your business to be one year from today.

Looking at your personal life: What is something you can do in your personal life that's going to make you better, sharper, as a business owner? That's going to help you show up better?

Asking yourself questions about changes that need to be made. Just get down to brass tacks. If there's one change you could make in your firm that would have the most impact, what would it be?

Answering those kinds of questions can be super helpful. And as you think forward, and as you've answered some high-level questions for yourself about the future, and you shape it, then you can think through a bit of a summary for yourself.

There are some really great resources to pull from this. Two that I studied a lot as I put together this workbook was, Vivid Vision by Cameron Herold; It's a good book, and there's some really great things in there. Also, The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan is a great book to really hone in on what matters the most. And so, those were two influences for me. You probably have other resources that you've read in the past, that really just felt like something that gives you the ability to hone in on the future.

So, pull from that. Pull from great questions you've heard in the past. But you can just also run with the bit that I've given you today, and you'd be in a much, much better place than you would be without doing this work.

As you think through a bit of a summary for next year for yourself, there are four questions that I think are helpful just to get out of your head. The most important things: This time next year, I will be… fill in the blank. This time next year, I will have… fill in the blank. This time next year, I will feel… fill in the blank. This time next year, I will know… fill in the blank. Answering those just caps all the work that you've done, when you think forward to next year, really well.

And then, my friends, if you've never done this before, I highly recommend it. You have an opportunity, now that you've really reflected and thought forward a bit, you have an opportunity to choose a word for your year that can serve as an anchor, that will serve your vision. Many people will immediately turn to the internet to look for inspiration, and you can do that.

But what I want to say is, you've just done a lot of work, and there is a theme here that you know is important for you. There is something that you know you should keep top-of-mind, so that you stay on track to create the very things that you want to create. Whether that's an increase in revenue or whether that's developing a team member or whether that's reducing expenses or whether that is finally tracking everything that you know that you should be tracking and evaluating, or whether that's all of the above.

You can choose a word that you can keep top-of-mind that will help serve as a guide for you and how you operate. You should write down some words first, before you turn to the world and the ideas that they have for you.

Because you know best what you need. You know best what you need to keep top-of-mind. You know best who you need to be next year. And so, pick a word that reminds you of that, and can pull you forward towards everything you want to create.

Do that before you turn to the internet and get ideas and inspiration. First, download out of your own brain. And I bet you money, most of you will pick one of the words that you first got out of your head and onto paper. And it won't be some of the ideas that you looked up, because you know what you need. You know the word. So, pick a word of the year.

Then, you can envision this next year leading with that word. You can answer some questions. Some questions I like: Why is this word perfect for the upcoming year? What would you be able to achieve if you actually lead with this word? If you kept it top-of-mind, and you allowed it to serve as a bit of a guide for you?

So, think through, what would your existence be like if this word was not forgotten? If it was guiding you? What would look different? How would you be on track? How would you show up differently? What results would you be getting that you're not currently getting in your life now?

Once you've answered those questions… I always like to think through and I like to have my members and clients think through the obstacles. Anticipate the barriers. So, when you imagine really attempting to live out this word that you have chosen, to lead with that word, what obstacles do you imagine will be present in being able to live it out?

At least, write down three. Because there will be obstacles, no matter what your word is. There's going to be days that it's not convenient to be that word. And so, think through what that's going to look like, and address each of those.

Like, okay, so, if that's probably going to happen, how am I going to react when it happens? What am I going to do? What's my plan for when that happens? Because it's likely going to. So, you could think through your obstacles, and that's always helpful no matter what kind of plan you're making.

Finally, just wrap this all up. You look back at all of your answers, your main takeaways from each section, you look at the word of the year, the obstacles you anticipate, you look at the vision that you want to create for the next year. And even if it's very limited, like you don't have a ton of foresight but you do know X, Y and Z are what you want to create next year.

It's easy to compare ourselves, and we think that someone else has this perfectly painted vision of next year; that's not all that common. I mean, truly, I work with a lot of law firm owners and that's not all that common. You don't have to have the perfectly clear, painted picture of what next year is going to be like. You just need to know what matters most to you for next year.

And optimize for that, in a way that feels really healthy for the firm and for you and for your clients and for your team. Optimize for that. It can be this one thing that you say matters the next year. This really is about progress, not perfection; not this perfect vision that's going to be fulfilled perfectly. No, it's about progress and what's your vision of progress for next year.

So, as you're wrapping up, looking back at all the answers that have come and all the reflection that you've done, and thinking forward that you've done, you can ask yourself a few key questions that will help you tie this up with a bow.

First, I would answer what were the most important realizations that you had, from this exercise with yourself. Make a note of those.

The next, is to make a decision about a very, very small habit or practice, something that will be very easy to do, that you could begin doing that will support where you want to be next year and how you need to show up in order to create those results for yourself.

The next, is asking yourself, as you move forward, how are you going to stay focused on the word that you've chosen? How are you going to lead with that word, and be reminded that you're supposed to be leading with that word?

That may seem silly to some of you, but I have to say, speaking from lots of experience, it is so easy to have such clarity after doing work like this and it is so easy for it to leave your brain within a few weeks. There is effort required to keep what is important top-of-mind. Because life will take you off course from that if you aren't very intentional, if you don't stay focused on this.

So, how are you going to stay focused? Write down some notes about how that's going to occur for you? How are you going to be reminded of your word? Is it going to be on your phone? Is it going to be on a sticky on your computer? Is it going to be a phone call with a friend to talk about that once a week? I don't know what it is for you, but how are you going to keep it on the top of your mind so it doesn't just slip away? That is important to think through.

The final thing is, jot down what you need to keep top-of-mind when you are planning, actual nuts and bolts planning, for 2024. What does that look like? What kinds of things are you going to need to remember as you are setting goals? As you are putting numbers to paper for next year? As you're budgeting?

How do you think this is all going to go as you are identifying key priorities that will be tackled next year? What do you want to keep top-of-mind so that when it comes time to make those decisions, it's in alignment with the understanding that you have right now? As you have finished this exercise with yourself?

Okay, I know that was a lot to throw at you, but this is important. And so, I didn't want to not do an episode on it. I think it's helpful to reflect. I think it's helpful to have a bit of a guide to reflect. So, hopefully this is helpful. You can push pause. I want you to use your own brain to come up with your own questions.

What I offered today isn't comprehensive in the way that we did this... This was a two-hour workshop that I led with members. It was incredible, the community was incredible, the chat was great. Everybody was offering up some of their main takeaways. There were similarities, and there were some surprising things. Everybody really was encouraging to one another and supportive. It was a really special day and a special workshop.

So, hopefully, this gives you something to run with if you're not in our community. But if you're not in our community, this is the kind of thing you can expect. We are pretty focused on creating conditions to win; whatever win means to you. Creating conditions to grow. Creating conditions to thrive, to succeed, to whatever; fill in the blank. That is what we're geared to do.

This is an example of what it looks like to help members tee themselves up, and to be able to plan from a much smarter place. You can be led that way, too. You can get assistance with staying focused and getting clear and making progress. That's what we do over here.

All right, everybody. Thank you. Have a beautiful, beautiful week. I will see you here next Tuesday on the podcast, as we get closer and closer to the end of this year. Bye-bye.

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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