Holloran Center

for Ethical Leadership in the Professions

Minnesota Lawyer Publication

Survey of the mission statements of local firms
By Prof. Neil Hamilton | August 21, 2000

Last April and May, I surveyed the 51 largest firms in the state, ranging in size from 609 to 19 lawyers, to see what proportion had a mission or values statement. Twenty-six of the firms had a statement, while 25 did not. Statements were in development at four of the firms that reported no current statement. One of the firms with no current statement reported that "determining the decor of the conference room is a very difficult issue for us, so a mission statement is unlikely."

A look at three model mission statements from Minnesota firms

The following three mission statements were given high marks by William Mitchell College of Law Prof. Neil Hamilton.

Arthur Chapman Kettering Smetak & Pikala PA

VISION STATEMENT

- Five years from now, we see ourselves as a solid organization with a centralized leadership which promotes innovation and a team approach, and mutually supports and encourages the growth of all members of the firm.

- We shall strive to provide and maintain a comfortable and harmonious working environment.

MISSION STATEMENT

- Our mission is to attain a satisfactory level of profitability through hard work and professionalism.

- We are committed to achieve this mission using state-of-the-art technology to be efficient, in concert with accountability and responsibility.

- Our culture shall remain collegial, teamwork-oriented, aggressive and innovative.

Rider, Bennett, Egan & Arundel, LLP

Rider Bennett's mission is to provide high quality legal services with integrity, professionalism and respect for our clients and the community. In doing this, we enjoy and strive for a collegial group practice while recognizing that our principal goal is to serve our clients effectively.

IN PURSUIT OF THIS MISSION, WE WILL HOLD TO THESE VALUES:

EXCELLENCE. We will strive to become one of the most sought after providers of legal services in the region.

SERVICE. We will endeavor to meet or exceed the expectations of our clients in all aspects of their legal representation.

ENCOURAGEMENT. We will promote a collegial atmosphere in which all individuals are encouraged to learn, improve and excel and to become leaders in the legal, business and civic communities.

STRENGTH. We will conduct our affairs to provide the financial strength and growth necessary to attract and keep the highest quality lawyers and staff.

RESPECT. We will encourage diversity among our members and respect for differing points of view.

SUPPORTIVENESS. We will work daily to enhance the supportive attitude, common bond and collective sense of humor - the special working atmosphere - which is a hallmark of the Firm.

COMMUNITY. We will pursue our belief that individuals with a sense of family and community and with interests outside the practice of law are better for it.

Halleland Lewis Nilan Sipkins & Johnson

The people of Halleland Lewis Nilan Sipkins & Johnson have embraced the following Core Values as the fundamental shared motivations of the institution we have created:

- TRUST: We value honesty and communication, and have the confidence in each other?s motivations to candidly yet respectfully resolve our differences.

- EXCELLENCE: We seek constant improvement in the quality of our work and our service to clients, and are committed to investing in even closer partnerships with our clients and greater sophistication in our delivery of top legal services.

- DIVERSITY: We recognize that all talented people can lend value to our organization, and are committed to affording opportunities, not only for women and minorities but for those with different backgrounds or lifestyles, to share their talents productively.

- INNOVATION: We are dedicated to anticipating our clients? changing needs and we are willing to take the risks necessary to meet and surpass those needs.

- PROFITABILITY: We seek to earn a fair profit as a return on the investment of our skills, experience, time, and resources, and to share our financial success with all those who make it possible.

- COMMUNITY: We will treat each other with respect, and provide an environment where people can share a sense of excitement and enjoyment, realize the benefits of working together in teams, and can flourish in both their personal and professional lives.

STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES

TRUST is the cornerstone of our organization. It is our confidence in each other and in our shared motivations that allows us to practice together better than we could alone. It is trust that makes a team-oriented practice productive and effective, enables us to honestly air our differences, confide our individual goals, take risks, weather the occasional failure, and support each others? varied endeavors. We are committed to this effort.

EXCELLENCE is what we offer to our clients. All people in our organization are committed to providing the highest caliber of legal work product in a way that meets and surpasses our clients? highest needs. This commitment to excellence requires us to understand our clients? businesses and treat them as our partners, to recruit, train and mentor the best attorneys and staff, to utilize the most effective technology, and to enforce our own standards of quality and service. We will meet these requirements.

DIVERSITY is not only a commitment to aggressively seek and retain highly qualified women and minorities. It is more broadly a commitment to afford opportunities to all people who have talents beneficial to our clients, and to aggressively shape and re-think our organization in ways that accommodate all talented people for the ultimate betterment of our clients and our organization. We have made this commitment.

INNOVATION is a necessity for effective service of sophisticated clients in a changing legal marketplace. Consistent innovation requires an attitude: a lasting commitment to open-mindedness and a willingness to occasionally fail, a dedication to eradicate complacency based on our successes, and a readiness to challenge any convention of private law practice that affects the quality of our work product or our service to clients. We embrace this attitude.

PROFITABILITY is essential to our survival as an organization. It also affords us the luxury of financially recognizing individuals' hard work and varied contributions to the shared success of our firm and the fulfillment of our clients' needs. Profitability means not just revenue generation, but efficient management of our costs and personnel, creativity in designing mutually beneficial arrangements with our clients, and a selective approach to new business opportunities. We recognize that our commitments to other institutional values may require some compromise to profit, and we are comfortable with that balance.

COMMUNITY is an acknowledgment that belonging to an organization like ours requires both commitment to, and sacrifice from, its members. All members of our firm deserve to be treated fairly, to be heard, to have a comfortable and efficient place to work, to cultivate their professional and personal lives and to have fun in the process. We believe that we do our best work in this environment.

In terms of focus and content, the mission or values statements of the 26 firms have some common elements.

- Twenty emphasize the excellence or exceptional quality of the legal work.

- Nineteen emphasize service, responsiveness or devotion to the client that is exceptional or exceeds client expectations.

- Fourteen list some aspect of ethics as a part of the mission. Of this group,

* Six call for commitment to public service and the community;
* Four call for adherence to the highest professional ethics standards;
* Four call for honesty or integrity in the practice of law; and
* One calls for service to the client, the legal profession and the public.

- Fourteen mission statements refer to the internal culture or working environment of the firm. This is the area of richest variation among the statements.

- Two state simply that collegiality or a supportive and collegial work environment is part of the mission.

There are a number of more developed descriptions of the working environment goal, for example:

- We will achieve a diverse, balanced workforce that promotes family, teamwork, collegiality, community and professional service.

- We will build a community with trust, respect, and mutual support.

- We will: (1) promote a collegial atmosphere in which all individuals are encouraged to learn, improve, excel, and to become leaders in the legal, business and civic communities; (2) encourage diversity among our members and respect for differing points of view; (3) work daily to enhance the supportive attitude, common bond, and collective sense of humor ? which is the hallmark of the firm; and (4) pursue our belief that individuals with a sense of family and community and with interests outside the practice of law are better for it.

- The three guiding values of our firm are dignity and respect for all employees, teamwork, and stewardship.

- We see ourselves as an organization that mutually supports and encourages the growth of all members of the firm, and we shall strive to provide and maintain a comfortable and harmonious working environment.

- We value honesty and communication, and have confidence in each others? motivations to candidly yet respectfully resolve our differences; we recognize that all talented people can lend value to our organization and are committed to affording opportunities, not only for women and minorities, but for those with different backgrounds or lifestyles, to share their talents productively; we will treat each other with respect, and provide an environment where people can share a sense of excitement and enjoyment, realize the benefits of working together in teams, and can flourish in both their personal and professional lives.

Five of the mission statements that include working environment put this goal among the top three goals in the statement. Six of the firms put this goal fourth or lower, usually last in the list of goals. Three of the firms list collegiality or working environment as a means to achieve better client service or financial success. For example, we wish to create a collegial organization where each person feels 100 percent responsible for the firm's financial success.

Ten of the mission statements include financial success or profitability in the mission. Six of these refer to financial success, reward or profitability as a goal. One refers simply to challenging and compensatory work as a goal. Two refer to sufficient financial strength to attract and retain high quality lawyers and staff. One refers to a goal to earn a fair profit and to share success with those who make it possible. Commitment to other institutional values may require some compromise on profit and we are comfortable with that balance.

Five of the mission statements focus on a specific practice area like complex litigation, commercial law, business law, intellectual property or a geographic region.

The 26 mission statements also occupy a substantial spectrum in terms of the stakeholders to whom the statement is addressed. At one end of the spectrum, the statement is directed completely to current or potential clients and is a marketing tool. At the other end, the statement is directed almost completely at the internal stakeholders, the lawyers and in some cases, the staff, and their working environment.

In between are a variety of hybrids. Some of the hybrids put more emphasis on both the excellence of the legal work and the exceptional service to the client with less weight on the internal working environment, and some put equal weight on both external and internal stakeholder interests.

Eight mission statements are directed completely to the external stakeholder, the current and potential clients, and emphasize the excellence of both the legal work and the service to the client. These eight display the most anesthetizing similarity. This group is similar to an experiment where consultant George Bailey of PricewaterhouseCoopers printed up six companies' vision statements and asked the CEOs to identify theirs. Half failed.

The reason that the mission statement is the first step in a business plan or strategic planning is that it reflects the firm's direction and values in an idealized form. It reflects the firm that might be. A good mission statement clarifies and orders the priorities so that lawyers and staff are clear on who "we" are, and where "we" are going. It makes clear why "we" are unique or special.

Because all the lawyers in the firm are members of the legal profession, the mission statement should seek to balance the competing values inherent in the practice of law. We are both a profession and a business. We aspire to the highest ideals of both business ethics and professional ethics. The statement should recognize, at least implicitly, the social compact of the profession with society that creates both special rights and corresponding duties.

Unless the mission of the firm is a collective of convenience held together by self-interest, the mission statement should point toward a moral and intellectual culture that members believe is worthy of support even at some monetary cost to themselves. Is the firm a loose confederation of independent contractors drawn to the highest bidder, or is it a community of lawyers with shared values and commitments? Finally, a mission statement should address the interests of both the external stakeholders, the clients, the profession and the community, as well as the internal stakeholders, the lawyers and the staff.

The mission must reflect the importance of transcendental purpose in motivating human energy and potential. All studies show that income is third or lower in its capability to give employees job satisfaction.

James Collins and Jerry Porres report on a six-year study of 18 exceptionally forward-looking successful companies in "Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies." Their findings contradict their preconceptions about what makes for a truly exceptional business. The one common element among the 18 businesses is a core ideology - core values and a sense of purpose beyond making money.

A sense of purpose beyond making money is even more critical for a firm of members of the legal profession. Our 750-year tradition, our social compact, our rules, and our oath bind us to the transcendental purpose of justice.

Three of the 26 mission statements come closest to meeting my criteria. I recommend that you look at the mission statements for Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala; Halleland, Lewis, Nilan, Sipkins, & Johnson; and Rider, Bennett, Egan & Arundel (see accompanying sidebar).

Neil Hamilton is Trustees Professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law.