Planning for the Future: A Necessity of Success
Rachel E. Kopp is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices with the firm of Spector, Roseman & Kodroff, P.C. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Where do you see your affiliate five years from now? Ten years from now? Fifteen years from now? The only real way to know the answer to these questions and to feel assured that you have appropriately prepared your affiliate for the future is to develop a long-range plan.
Importance of a Long-Range Plan
Although it is quite easy for bar leaders to become overwhelmed with their affiliate’s current activities, affiliates must make establishing a long-range plan a priority. According to Affiliate Director Ryan Reed of Bowling Green, Kentucky, “in order to be a healthy organization, an affiliate should expect to do a long-range plan every two or three years.” Long-range planning is important because it helps affiliates define their organization and focus on specific objectives. ABA YLD District 23 Representative Elizabeth Hill of Phoenix, Arizona, believes that long-range planning is beneficial to affiliates in her district “because it encourages affiliates to establish development goals and objectives and points them in a specific direction. To reach those goals the affiliate must critically evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, determine what resources it has available, and decide how it is going to use those resources to capitalize on its strengths and improve its weaknesses in order to accomplish its goals. Ultimately, the affiliate will be more productive and efficient.”
In addition, even though an affiliate’s executive leadership changes every year, having a long-range plan helps to maintain the continuity of the affiliate’s mission and programming. A long-range plan can also help an affiliate measure its success because it can compare its yearly progress with the goals set forth in the long-range plan.
Creation of a Long-Range Plan
Creating a long-range plan requires careful thought and planning. In Hill’s opinion, “it is one thing to create a list of goals. It is quite another to create measurable, specific, short-term objectives, that will allow the affiliate to realistically and practically achieve those goals in a timely manner.” Therefore, before delving into the long-range planning process, Reed recommended that affiliates find an organization that they admire, study that organization’s plans, and consider the process used by that organization in drafting its long-range plan.
Daniel Van Horn of Memphis, Tennessee, who is the ABA YLD Assembly Speaker and the immediate past president of the Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, also suggested that affiliates form a “working group” to help develop a long-range plan. The group can include members of the affiliate’s executive leadership, as well as other members of the young lawyer organization. The more diverse the group, the better the final product will be, because the long-range plan should reflect the views of the entire young lawyers organization, not just the organization’s leadership.
Although long-range plans differ in both appearance and focus according to the particular young lawyer organization, successful long-range plans will likely include the following:
• a mission statement outlining the purpose and nature of the affiliate;
• a financial component, which helps the affiliate set and review financial benchmarks and addresses how the organization will be funded (e.g., by the senior bar or through fundraising);
• a public service component setting forth the organization’s public service mission;
• a member service component outlining recruitment and retention strategies for young lawyer members; and
• a leadership development component providing specific goals for your affiliate’s officers and other leaders.
Each of these long-range plan components also should include a strategy, objectives, action items, name of the person or persons in charge of the action items, and a completion date for each action item. This way, even as the executive leadership changes, new leaders can look to the long-range plan to make sure their goals are consistent with the organization’s mission.
Implementation of a Long-Range Plan
Implementing a long-range plan requires the cooperation of the entire young lawyer organization. Hill noted that “aside from trying to create unique goals, one of the biggest challenges of implementing a long-range plan is developing achievable and measurable objectives to reach those goals.” It is also important to remember that long-range plans are intended to be—and in fact should be—fluid documents. “When you are dealing with something that is looking out three-to-five years, circumstances are guaranteed to change and the plan must be flexible enough to change with them,” Hill stated.
Similarly, Reed believes that developing a long-range plan should be part of an affiliate’s “regular activity,” even if the affiliate does not redo its plan every year. Reed suggested that affiliates should not allow officers to cycle all the way through a three-year executive leadership period without contributing to the affiliate’s long-range plan.
As an affiliate leader, the future of your young lawyer organization rests in your hands. You are not alone, however. When drafting a long-range plan, you should use and listen to your members to provide you with valuable input as to the direction of your organization. You should also draw on the knowledge and experience of members of the senior bar and its staff. Most importantly, you can schedule a site visit from the ABA YLD Affiliate Assistance Team, which will find you a sample long-range plan and facilitate the long-range planning process for your affiliate. Interested affiliates can request such assistance via the Affiliate Assistance Request form at www.abanet.org/yld/aff.html.