do you learn in your practice?

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.

go learn something. #actionmonday

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What are you doing today to learn something new?

What can you do every day to learn something new?

And I’m not talking about mandatory continuing education. Although it would be great if folks held CLE courses to a high standard and didn’t just phone it in. But I recognize that is a problem too big for me to fix.

I suggest that making learning a part of your daily routine — a habit, dare I say — can do as much, if not more, than any single other thing you can do to grow. As a lawyer, a person, a professional, a friend, a spouse, a parent. No matter the role, you will be better.

It’s one of my three big goals: learn something new. Every day.

It’s not hard. And only takes as much time as you want it to.

Here’s how.

READ. Find something to read that interests you. Blogs, books, magazines, research papers (which can actually be quite fascinating).

TALK. Find people to talk to. People who do things you’re interested in or want to know more about. This can lead to networking but it’s really more focused on learning new stuff. Though it’s interesting how connecting with new and different people can open up new and different opportunities.

TAKE A CLASS. Preferably a workshop. That’s hands-on. Yes, there are some good CLE courses out there, but most are not great. And anyway, this is an investment in your learning, not in getting mandatory CE credit. Explore your interests, hobbies, passions, through a class, either live or online.

GO TO CONFERENCES. Get out there and meet people. Some conferences are very good. Others are not so. Do some research, figure out where the intersection of your interests exists, register, and GO.

LISTEN. Listen to what interesting and smart people have to say. Really listen. Listen to audiobooks, podcasts, NPR during your commute/run/walk.

FIND OR CREATE A GROUP. Gather together some like-minded or even not-so-like-minded folks and meet on a regular basis to explore something or everything. I’ve done this more than once and have always been surprised at how much it added to my learning.

TEACH. The best way to really learn is to study something and then teach it to others. Beyond mastery, teaching is incredibly satisfying on many levels. 

Before your mind goes to all the reasons you can’t adopt the learning mindset, let me say this: As with exercise, diet, meditation, or whatever you do to stay alive and healthy, choosing to make time for learning is a choice. You can choose to make it a prioritized goal. Or not.

What’s not an excuse.

Access? Go online, spend 10 minutes on Google and you’ll have access to more resources on your chosen topic than you can possibly get through in your lifetime. It’s all there. Maybe the seminar you’ve chosen is expensive. So choose another one. Or take a course on Udemy or Skillshare or Coursera or Kahn Academy or edX.

Money? Nope. Again, 10 minutes on Google and most of what you find is free. Courses from the online sources above are free or very low in cost. Books from the library are free. Or join Amazon Prime (cheap, but not free), and check out ebooks.

Time? Well, this one’s on you. You either make time or you don’t. Make it one of your three annual/monthly/weekly/daily goals. Or not.

Why bother?

Lifelong learners are more interesting people than stagnant ones. This is just common sense. Don’t you want to be more interesting? And more interested?

You’re more likely to earn more than non-learners.

You’re more likely to have a healthier, happier, younger brain as you age.

And as Dan Pink shares in Drive, we humans need three things in order to feel motived in and satisfied with our lives: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Lifelong learning achieves all three.