Personal Mission, Vision, and Values Statements in Law School

Personal Mission, Vision, and Values Statements in Law SchoolThis week we welcome back guest writer Cathlyn Melvin to talk about finding a personal mission and figuring out your values as a law student and future lawyer.

Standing at a gas pump, your eyes glaze over at a posted paragraph about the fuel supplier’s mission to be “the world’s premier petroleum company.”

Okay.

Corporate mission statements, according to former Forbes contributor Len Sherman, “all say the right things about management’s deep concern for customers, employees, shareholders, communities and even planet Earth.”

Since they all sound kinda alike, and we’re all kinda jaded, business mission statements just don’t matter that much to consumers.

For the people who are shaping the business, though, mission statements address why and how they do what they do. Vision statements imagine the world the business wants to create—the impact the business wants to have on their community. And values statements explain what they believe in—what principles guide them.

Obviously, being a law student is different than being a business owner.

Even so, clearly articulating your own principles and goals for how you’ll affect the world can help you stay grounded through school. “It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important,” explains University of Florida 2L Morgan Zwirn, “…. but remember that you don’t have to compromise your self-worth for a grade or change your path because that is what you see others doing.”

So when it comes to mission, vision, and values, I want you to think like a business.

Law school means hard work, long hours, confusing material, and general frustration and exhaustion. In the first semester, my class lost more than one student, and many more considered dropping out partway through. We’ll lose more as we go, and that’s okay. In fact, doing your homework on your values, vision, and mission might just convince you law school isn’t the right path for you at all—or, it might help you realize that you do want to stick around.

The best time to do this work is before you ever get started, of course, and then revisit your mission, vision, and values statements every few months to ensure you’re in alignment with them (or to determine that they’ve actually changed).

But if you’re already in school and this is all new, then this is the perfect time for you to think through your mission, vision, and values.

What are my values?

What values are important to you? Write them down in order of most important to least important. Sometimes our values conflict, and having a prioritized list can help us make decisions when they do.

I recently had a conversation with a friend in which she was trying to make a decision about a purchase—and ultimately, it got down to her values.

“I like to listen to audiobooks,” she told me, “because I value efficiency, and I can listen and drive or fold laundry at the same time. I also value supporting the minority-owned independent bookstore in my neighborhood because I want to commit to that economy and community.”

The bookstore only sells paper books, though.

Conflicting values.

We ultimately determined that she valued supporting the minority and small business communities more than she valued the efficiency of an audiobook, and that helped her make her buying decision.

That’s a pretty simple example, but your values ripple through your entire life, and if you’ve articulated them you’ll have an easier time making decisions about papers you’ll write, clinics you’ll participate in, and jobs you’ll accept.

No value is too obvious or too simple to include on your list. Is kindness important to you? Honesty? Integrity? Passion? Commitment? Write it all down.

Other important values might include:

  • Collaboration (or working alone!)
  • Calm (or constant activity!)
  • Flexibility to raise a family
  • Financial security
  • Freedom to travel
  • Supporting social issues
  • Being respected and trusted by your coworkers and supervisors
What’s my vision?

We’re working a little backward here, and some folks will suggest you start with your mission. For me, though, vision is the big picture.

What do you want the world to look like? Try to describe the most important parts of that world in one sentence or phrase.

When Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft, their vision was “A computer on every desk and in every home.” Simple. Clear. To the point.

Once you know what you want the world to be, then you can address your mission.

What’s my mission?

Consider what you’re good at.

How do your strengths and values fit into this new world you’ve envisioned? In terms of your legal skills, you might not know yet, and that’s okay.

This is a good time to talk with practicing attorneys about your existing skills, even if they’re not specifically related to practicing law (e.g. people skills, communication skills). Talk to them about your vision and your values, and ask for advice: how might you fit yourself into your vision for the world?

Answering these questions, and revisiting them now and then, will help keep you on track.

Set yourself up for success. Allow yourself an afternoon to brainstorm and draft your mission, vision, and values statements. Mark out an afternoon a few months from now to ask yourself if they’re still accurate, and if your current path is compatible with them.

Knowing your values, vision, and mission will help ground you in times when you might feel like floundering. Write them down. Keep them close. Revisit and revise them as you grow.

So. Right now. Open up iCal or Google calendar or your fancy paper calendar, if that’s your thing. Block off an afternoon (or a morning) this week to draft your statements. Commit to that work.

You’ll thank yourself later.

Good luck on your mission!


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About Cathlyn Melvin

Before beginning law school in Fall 2020, Cathlyn worked as an actor, educator, and writer in Chicago and around the US. Now freelancing her way through school, Cathlyn loves reading memoirs, editing essays, baking cheesecakes, and petting cats.

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