In my last post, I wrote about being a lifelong learner — why and how to do it. I challenged you to go learn something new — every day.
Today I challenge you to put this into practice in your practice. And I don’t mean solely by attending CLE seminars (more on CLEs in a moment).
I’m referring to a more self-directed learning process. Set the goal to learn something new, relevant to your practice, each and every day. Why? For all the reasons I wrote about yesterday. Oh, and there’s also the part about ethics and competence. An ever-learning lawyer is a competent lawyer.
It’s surprisingly easy.
Learn from the work of others. Reviewing another attorney’s document for a client? Get the work done for your client, then take a fresh look at the document (unless it’s a really crappy one). Look for any better ways to draft standard clauses or handle unique clauses. Periodically I come across some really well-drafted documents and always take time (non-billable) to review for purposes of improving my own drafting. Writing and drafting are matters of continuous improvement. This is time well spent.
Learn from clients. Other industries often have much better ways of doing things than we do. Pay attention to the differences and integrate those that make sense. An example from my practice: I work with many creative clients to create contracts. Taking my cue from clients’ keen sense of visual design, I’ve completely changed how I format and structure contracts. Paying attention to design results in a document that is more visually appealing, easier to read, easier to understand, and for all these reasons serves the client better. Design aesthetic has never been the domain of the legal profession, but is one example of something we should pay more attention to.
Learn from unexpected sources. This is similar to learning from clients. If you’re only reading legal sources (books, blogs, articles, etc.), I guarantee that you’re getting a limited perspective. Branch out and you’ll find that resources geared towards other industries offer incredibly rich resources. And if you focus on industries relevant to your clients, the value of what you learn likely will be compounded. An example from my practice: I work with software developers who use agile/lean/kanban methods in their work. I’ve been learning about these methods myself, and the benefit is at least two-fold: (1) I better understand the work that my clients do, which makes me more effective in the work I do for them, and (2) I’m integrating these methods into my own workflow, which is making me more effective in the work I do for all of my clients.
Learn in CLEs. Good CLE seminars have real value. But the proliferation of sub-par providers, in combination with the fact that many seminars are delivered by lawyers with no presentation training or skill (and who often hoard the really valuable information) make finding the good ones akin to locating the proverbial needle in a haystack. But they’re out there. And I encourage you to be thoughtful about the CLE you choose, instead of finding the cheapest online provider and paying attention only when the secret code prompt is given. Use CLE to stay current in your practice areas, of course, but also use it to expand. Go to CLEs on time management, technology, productivity. And commit to putting into practice at least one thing you learn in each seminar.
Intentionally seeking out learning opportunities in your daily work has many valuable benefits. I also believe it’s a way to stay fresh in your practice, staving off burnout, boredom and other negatives that come along with having done legal work for 15+ years (as I have). Give it a try.
No matter how much experience we have, there’s always something new to learn.