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Five good habits attorneys should start building

 

There’s no shortage of bad habits out there, and attorneys aren’t immune from them. Work-life balance issues come to mind, for example. But the hours you work and the demands placed upon you aren’t always within your control. Some things just take a lot of effort, and being a competent, competitive lawyer is one of them.

But among the things you can control, there is room for a few good habits. Take a look at the following items, and see if there’s room for change in your work process. Your future self just might thank you.

Take a look around you. How much expertise resides in the collective brains and experiences of your peers? Most likely, there’s a lot. The challenge is putting that knowledge to work for you in a way that is systematic and repeatable. That’s often almost impossible due to a variety of reasons. As new clients, cases, or matters come and go, your processes and task lists get rebuilt time and time again.

What if you could rely on something more than your peers’ institutional knowledge? What if there were existing services or resources that could help you get started down the path quickly and confidently? Imagine being able to engage in your work without having to build your knowledge from the ground up.

By making the most of existing knowledge, you can finally get ahead of your work. Don’t ignore your colleagues, but also consider leveraging expert-created content written in plain English, like that within Practical Law. When you obtain a reliable source of information and know-how, you’ll be in a far better place at the beginning of each new legal matter. You’ll be able to get started with a bedrock understanding of the law, knowing what you need to do first.

One of the principle challenges of being an attorney is that the law changes almost constantly. Small modifications can have a big impact on the manner and effectiveness of your work. And while keeping personally informed of each and every change in state, local, and federal law that might affect your practice isn’t a simple feat, all attorneys need to take steps to ensure that their work product reflects a current understanding of the law.

For some, this gets slightly easier with experience. The pace of change doesn’t slow down for anyone, but those attorneys who seem to have seen it all are more adept at noticing when history starts repeating itself. Nevertheless, even the sagest senior partner recognizes the limits of one person’s knowledge. And when changes in the law do happen, a seasoned professional can quickly land back in uncharted waters. The takeaway, then, is to make certain that recency and accuracy checks are baked into your workflow. Look to your peers for expertise and wisdom. They’ve earned it. But when it comes to hard data on changes in the law, adopt a “trust, verify, and check the date” attitude toward the information you’ll be counting on. 

Thanks to technology’s seemingly unstoppable progress, the act of finding information just keeps getting easier. At the same time, as the volume and quality of search results has increased, our own tolerance for imperfect results has plummeted. For attorneys, this is especially true. “Good enough” search results merely point attorneys in a direction, with plenty of work left to be done. Therefore, any reductions you can make in the time spent tracking down the precise information you need is good news.

Technology can help here. Westlaw Edge, for example, uses the most advanced search engine built specifically for the law. But tools are only as good as the hands that wield them, and software won’t turn a layperson into a lawyer. Even experienced attorneys need to know how to effectively research a legal issue. To that end, attorneys should look for and use built-in support from their legal research tools. In the case of Westlaw Edge, that includes support from our Reference Attorneys, bar-licensed attorneys who have immersed themselves in legal research, ready to help maximize the effectiveness of legal research technology.

Quality control should already be part of your workflow, but the best lawyers always see room for improvement here. Litigators in particular know the importance of crafting ironclad work. After all, outside forces are standing by, waiting for their chance to find any weakness they can. And while the risks are different for transactional attorneys, they’re not absent.

Prepare your work for the challenges it will face by taking advantage of peer review or resources that will assist you in your drafting and document curating process. Resources like these aren’t available for free, but they’re critically important to the clients who rely on them for a fresh set of eyes and an objective review of their output. 

This final bit of advice is more concrete than it sounds, and it’s really a continuation of the previous tip. It’s human nature to doubt oneself — even more so for people whose work is subject to intense scrutiny. So make it a habit to identify the places where technology and human expertise can be incorporated into your workflows, and then breathe a little easier.

Once you’ve done your due diligence and made certain your work is as solid as possible given all the tools and quality checks at your disposal, you have earned the right to move on to the next task with confidence and a clear conscience.