Setting and Achieving Goals in your Legal Practice – Q & A with Shelley Dunstone

Shelley DunstoneIn an exclusive Q&A session with Legalwise Seminars, Shelley Dunstone, founder and Principal of Legal Circles, addresses key questions regarding goal setting. She will be presenting in March at the upcoming 10 Points in One Day conference on Setting and Achieving Goals in your Legal Practice.


Why is goal setting an important skill for everyday legal practice?

If you’re in private practice, it makes sense to get yourself into a situation where you’re doing the work you most enjoy, for the type of clients you like working with. Goals for an in-house lawyer could include making yourself more valuable to the company, earning a seat at the Board table, or expanding the legal function and gaining better recognition for the value it creates.

Legal practice tends to be reactive – tasks arrive, you perform them, and before you know it, your career has been defined by circumstances, not by you. You worked long and hard to gain your Law degree, and the early years can be tough. It makes sense to design your career. Even if your employer wants to help you grow, developing your career is still your own responsibility.


What are some effective mechanisms one could employ to monitor the progress of these goals, whether personal or professional?

Write down your goals (so you don’t lose sight of them) and also set out the small steps and regular habits that will help you achieve them. Review your progress several times during the year, and particularly at the start of each year, when you are likely to feel a sense of renewed energy and enthusiasm. Use a daily To-Do list, including tasks that will move you closer to achieving your goal. Big goals are achieved one small step at a time – you must schedule these little steps into your day.


How can you regain your ambition when these goals may seem out of reach?

Create a picture in your mind of what success will look like. Visualise how your life will be different and better when you’ve achieved your goal. Keeping that vision in clear view will help keep you motivated. In my presentation I’ll explain how maintaining a strong vision helped me to achieve an audacious and frankly implausible goal of my own.

A big goal might take years to achieve, but don’t let that deter you. Pursuing that goal will move you ahead, in a direction you would not otherwise take. Sometimes you’ll feel ‘stuck’ and sometimes you’ll run into a dead-end, but you can usually find a way to get moving again. To maintain your motivation, focus on achieving smaller steps – recognising your progress will re-energise you. From time to time look back and see how far you’ve travelled from your starting point – you’ll often be surprised!


What is the most important takeaway from your presentation that you think every lawyer should apply in their practice?

Build your career by choice, not chance. Work with intention towards the career that you will find fulfilling.


Shelley Dunstone is the founder and Principal of Legal Circles, a consulting practice that helps lawyers to achieve their business and career aspirations. She helps lawyers to build profile and attract more of the work they want to do, from clients they like to work with. Admitted as a lawyer in 1981, Shelley practised in a wide variety of legal fields before specializing in commercial litigation and becoming a law firm partner. In addition to Law, Shelley holds qualifications in Marketing and Applied Finance. She is a Life Member of the Australian Legal Practice Management Association, an Adjunct Lecturer with the College of Law, and a former Chair of the Senior Lawyers Committee of the International Bar Association. Shelley has written for numerous law firm management books and journals, and has presented at conferences around Australia and internationally – in Buenos Aires, Madrid, Dubai, Vancouver, Boston, Vienna, Washington, Tokyo, Boston, Rome and Seoul. Connect with Shelley via LinkedIn.