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Be S.M.A.R.T. With Goal Setting

By Leah Teague


In our last post we encouraged our readers to make time for setting and evaluating goals and to help law students (and young lawyers) do the same. In this post we provide resources for use with the SMART technique (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) for goal setting. We include the SMART technique in our textbook, Fundamental of Lawyer Leadership. In fact, we included it twice. We introduce students to the SMART goal-setting method in Chapter 9, Setting Goals, and we return to it in Chapter 20, How Leaders Manage Effectively, when discussing the importance of delegating and offering suggestions for how to delegate successfully.

Searching for goal setting advice offered to lawyers led to articles also recommending the SMART technique. I particularly liked Lawyer Personal and Career Goals because it starts with the question,

“’[W]hat’s your why?’ What kind of life do you want? … What impact do you want your work to have? Behind all those questions is your ‘why.’ It’s what gets you up in the morning and propels you through your day.”

The “why” should be the basis for setting goals and the control for evaluating actions. 

Other recent articles written for lawyers:

Since the SMART technique is mentioned in all, I did some digging to learn more about its origin. Some sources suggest the renowned Peter Drucker should be credited with its creation based upon his 1954 book “The Practice of Management.” Drucker, credited as the father of modern business management, believed management involved creating systems to set objectives and evaluate performance as part of a wholistic approach to building effective and responsible organizations and institutions. Drucker, born in Austria and raised in Germany, earned a Ph.D. in International Law in 1932 and moved to America two years after some of his work was banned and burned by the Nazi. As with all of us, Drucker’s teachings were influenced by his life experiences. He believed “[m]anagement, practiced well,” was necessary not only for the successful functioning of a company but also as the “bulwark against evil” he witnessed in society. I think Drucker would approve of our efforts to equip law students to be ethical lawyers who own their obligation to be the guardians of democracy.

Works recognizing the benefits of adopting “specific and measurable” goals and objectives can be traced back to Drucker and others in the 1940s and 1950s. Particularly interesting to those of us at Baylor who knew Paul J. Meyer, a report on the History of SMART Objectives credits Meyer with use of the SMART acronym in his work “Personal Success Planner” in 1965. Meyer, a long-time resident of Waco and generous benefactor to Baylor University, was “a pioneer of the personal development industry.” Through his companies, Success Motivation Institute and Leadership Management Institute, Meyer’s programs were produced in more than 70 countries and 27 languages and influenced other renowned leadership authors (such as John C. Maxwell).

The first published article using the SMART acronym appears to have been written by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham for the November 1981 issue of Management Review, titled, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives.” Written for business managers to assist with being more thoughtful about setting out a plan to accomplish an objective, they encourage these 5 considerations for each goal:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Attainable – specify who will do it.
  • Relevant – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

We hope you will share with us the ways in which you incorporate the SMART technique into your work to better prepare law students and lawyers for leadership.

– LEAH

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Setting Goals

By Leah Teague


Here is to a new year that bring less disruption and more togetherness!


January is a time when lots of people contemplate resolutions for the new year – a goal setting exercise of sorts. For those of us whose work calendar is tied to the academic year we have two additional times to routinely consider our goals and set objectives and action steps. We spend time each summer to construct plans for the fall or perhaps the entire academic year. In early winter we plan for the upcoming spring term. We are devoting this month to tips for effective goal setting practices.

Some of us are already regimented goal setters. Using daily planners, some gain a sense of security in the process of organizing daily tasks to be allocated across the precious few waking hours each day. Others prefer to view the weeks and months ahead as milestones to measure progress in the near future. This time of year, some think about last year’s New Year’s resolutions (i.e., whether met or still outstanding) before deciding the focus of efforts for this year. Still others engage in a retreat-like phenomenon to consider their next big direction in life. All these processes are goal-setting exercises, whether recognized as such or not. If any of these describe you, we hope what we offer will provide new resources to consider and a reason to assess your own goal setting routine.

For those who believe life is best lived by embracing spontaneity, we will offer advice for strategic engagement that is comfortable and productive. Dreams of great works without a plan of action can strand you in a state of unfulfilled potential and leave you longing for answer to the question of what if I had done this or that differently. Whatever our personality, we all benefit from setting aside some time periodically to consider our priorities and imagine great accomplishments and meaningful impacts that allow us to leave a desired legacy.

The same is true of our law students. Students commonly and falsely believe that their life will never be busier than their challenging-to-overwhelming time in law school. We know there is little truth in this assumption. As we seek to provide a more holistic approach to preparing our students for success and impact, we should make time to address the benefits of goal setting and offer suggestions for practices.

We already use goal setting techniques when we counsel students. For example, if a student seeks advice about how to make a good grade in a particular class (or a better grade than before), then they have stated a goal. We then help them to create a plan of action to accomplish the objectives that must be met in order to achieve the goal (i.e., sufficiently preparing for each class, reviewing and outlining material, studying for the exam, etc.). Many of our students come to law school with an understanding of the importance of the process and how to do it. Some do not and need additional assistance.

Whether the goal is passing a class, graduating summa cum laude, making a mock trial team, or winning an election as student body officer, providing students with instruction on goal setting is beneficial to them now. They will better manage their time and achieve more success in law school. If we help students develop the habit of setting goals and periodically assessing their progress while in law school, we give them one more tool to use on their journey to success and satisfaction in life after law school.

Stay tuned for practical tips next week!

– LEAH