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The quiet, but mighty, introverted lawyer

It is quite possible that most people think, when they think of lawyers, that lawyers are extroverts arguing with judges in front of a whole room of people and yelling “You can’t handle the truth!” (reference to the movie “A Few Good Men”, if you’re not up your movie quotes!). It’s probably safe to say that the legal profession has a number of extroverts in it’s community, but I would bet there is quite a few introverts in there.

Raise your hand if you thought extroverts meant outgoing and sociable and introverts meant shy and reserved?

I think it’s a common understanding of these terms and, admittedly, that was my initial understanding also. BUT – not too long ago, someone showed me a fabulous TED talk by Susan Cain entitled “The Power of Introverts”.  I watched it and it made me feel “Wow, these are my people”. Susan has also written a book entitled “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” which is on my bookshelf at the ready for a read.  Interesting side note, Susan also used to be a corporate lawyer! What Susan’s TED talk and my subsequent reading on the topic made me realise is that I was wrong about what it meant to be an extrovert or introvert. The best way I have come to look at the difference is this:

  • extroverts gain their energy and thrive through social interaction and social environments, being around other people
  • introverts gain their energy through their own self-reflection, solitary activities and spending time alone or in small close-knit groups of close friends etc.

Whilst many people commonly mistake introversion for shyness, it is important to note that the difference does not come from attributes of the person, but rather the way they process information and experiences; extroverts gaining energy from social gatherings, introverts from quiet and solitary environments and reflection. Think of it like this, you’ve had a rough day at the office. An extrovert may go out with friends, go to a party or some other large social gathering to re-energise. An introvert may retreat to read a book or go fishing. As I learned more about introversion and found myself feeling that these people were speaking and writing about yours truly, I then became so much more self-aware and, as a result, empowered by this knowledge; the knowledge and understanding of these strengths I had and learning strategies about how to manage and/work on my weaknesses. Truly eye-opening stuff. I simply had to get more. So, I kept searching. I then found this book by Heidi Brown called, you guessed it, “The Introverted Lawyer”.  Heidi Brown is a Associate Professor and Director of the Legal Writing Program at Brooklyn Law School in the US and was a practising lawyer for many years prior. Heidi has published two books, “The Introverted Lawyer” and “Untangling Fear in Lawyering. I have bought my eBook version of The Introverted Lawyer and have it on the top of my to-read list (yes, there’s a lengthy list) and I intend on writing further on the topic when I’ve finished the read.

In the interim, I want to share this valuable find and the insights I’ve experienced even since starting on this little self-awareness journey and to openly celebrate these insightful, valuable women who are sharing these learnings with the world: Susan Cain and Heidi Brown. I also want to openly celebrate introversion and to help (in my own little way) dispel the myth that the attributes commonly found among introverts are not weaknesses or negative. That there is untapped and unparalleled potential in the introverts that share our office space and greater legal community.  This is particularly important, I feel, for leaders. I feel that leaders should be aware and embrace the knowledge to be gained about these personality differences to help properly and effectively manage their people and teams. Imagine the success that could be achieved in having a leader understand and harness this knowledge and act accordingly. They could draw out the best strengths and support the most paralyzing weaknesses for the good of that team member and the good of the business. Heidi Brown, in all her introverted wisdom, has also published a great article for those among us who are tasked with networking. The idea of networking almost sounds like a dirty word to some introverts, but Heidi’s recent article gives some wonderful tips to help introverted people make networking their own. It’ entitled “Navigating ‘introvert hell’: You don’t have to be hard-charging to be an impactful legal networker”. It’s a really great read. Even if you, yourself, do not identify as an introvert, such great value can be found in your own understanding of introverts purely on the basis that you can then understand more about what makes those around you, who may indeed identify as introverts, tick.

What about you? Do you “know thyself”?

Just one thing to leave you with; there are many incredibly influential, successful and amazing people in the world who identify as introverts.

Rosa Parks. Bill Gates. Eleanor Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln. Albert Einstein. Barack Obama.

Now, I’m off to find out if reading cases counts as ‘re-energising’ for this little introvert.

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Women leaders in law

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them

Maya Angelou

I have been wanting to write something in celebration of International Women’s Day and many will notice that I’m a bit (a lot) late with this little piece.

The reason for my tardiness will likely resonate with a few people; I have been somewhat paralyzed by an analysis of the good, bad and the ugly, in mainstream media lately, about women’s rights. I had many ideas but nothing ever seemed quite “good enough” to publish.

In true “Michele” fashion, however, I am choosing to find the positive in this delay, and have relished in the opportunity to read and deeply consider much of the literature that has been published over the past few weeks. After much reflection and consideration, I have paved the path to writing this piece.

Leading women in law

Women in law, particularly in leadership, are a celebratory development in modern society and it is a fight that is still being fought today. One of the challenges facing women is spoken of far less often – when women in leadership don’t support each other or even go so far as to bully other women.

It almost feels wrong to type those words, but what is even more heartbreaking, are the stories of women in law who have been hurt by other female leaders. I have heard many stories of disappointment, sadness and outright betrayal flowing from the female ‘leaders’ they once admired during their quest to craft their legal career.

A common theme I found learned among many women in law is this 50/50 chance of finding a great female leader. One-half of their female bosses are wonderfully supportive, driven, intelligent, compassionate, empathetic, confident and understanding. And the other half? Much the opposite. They can seem aggressive, emotionless, intimidating, harsh, abusive and even vindictive.  Some glean that the bullies’ behaviour results from having to face significant gendered barriers blocking their road to success. Bitterness may have seeped into their feelings about other women in law experiencing what is perceived as an easier path. 

Longevity in law

It is no surprise then that many women face the often contemplated question at least once in their career,  “should I stay in the law?”. Thus begins the familiar internal battle of “but I’ve made it this far” and “but there’s a roadblock at every turn” and “it shouldn’t be this hard” when they have felt a lack of support or worse they have been bullied. 

“It’s OK to fall down, it’s what you do after that matters.”

The horrid irony is that those who have been bullied often suffer in silence. Without addressing the issue at hand, resentment can unwittingly fester into resistance and bitterness. The victim of the bullying may become the very person who wronged them, to begin with.

To those women who feel this or have felt this, I see you. I have had those same thoughts throughout my own various struggles in the land of law, but I have found great value in looking inward. Not looking at what I could have done better in any given situation but understanding how those things have affected me and permitting myself to feel those feelings. I have learned to validate those feelings and learn to ‘accept’ those things I cannot change.

Finding resilience and internal wellbeing

What I fundamentally believe, however, is that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. You may have scars or tenderness as the days/months/years go on, but the pain will begin to alleviate with time – bit-by-bit.

Think about watching a child ride their bike. They fall off, and you heave in thinking, oh gosh, how bad is the damage? You go to them, comfort them and talk to them about being brave. You make sure they try again because practice makes perfect, and it’s important to keep moving forward. It hurt. It’s OK to be sad, but now we’ve learned how NOT to ride the bike, or we’ve learned how to ride our bike BETTER.Advertisement

Now, when you fall off your metaphorical bike, do you give yourself the same patience and understanding? Do you tell yourself it’s ok to feel hurt, sad, disappointed? Do you reflect and say, ” I’ve learned something from this” or “okay, that happened, I need to keep moving forward armed with new experience and knowledge,”

We need to ensure we validate our own feelings and experiences. It’s about practising the art of acceptance. You cannot necessarily change what has happened or who hurt you. What you can change is how you deal with it and how you treat your colleagues around you.

By accepting an instance of belittling or bullying, you are not excusing it. You accept that it occurred, you validate your feelings on the matter, and then you need to permit yourself to move on.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent

Eleanor Roosevelt

When women hurt other women, it may have a special kind of sting to it. The sting inflicted may come from a dark place: a trauma from the offender’s own troubled path in the competitive world of law. It doesn’t excuse it, but it may explain it.

The question then becomes, what do you do with this empathetic understanding? You can take what you want from it.

Leading by example

You can walk the path of acceptance by learning and paving a path of your own. You can act as a true advocate for women by supporting your colleagues around you. How better to support women in the legal profession than to lead by example and advocate for equality and respect?

Of course, there is always the option to call it out for what it is when it is appropriate. This can be a complicated approach, especially if the bully is your supervisor. If they are your only supervisor, perhaps it’s time to move on if your requests/comments/protests have gone ignored. Perhaps you can go to another supervisor. I’m not going to say it’s easy; however, you can at least say you’ve tried to address the issue and moved forward. You never know what impact your words may have on others. Perhaps your words to another supervisor become the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it’s the last thing they needed to take formal action for bullying in the workplace.

Who knows! It is definitely not an easy path but what I gather is that you are likely to be much easier on yourself if you have attempted to address the issue head-on. It’s okay to feel cautious when you are addressing a sensitive issue – you’re healing! As long as you do not let the hesitation block the path to acceptance. This power is yours, and yours alone.

Celebrating strong women in law

There are some AMAZING women in this profession, and we should celebrate them. We should learn from those that wrong others, use those voices that have been quietened to raise ours louder, grittier and stronger. Women who inspire us, who truly advocate and support fellow women in law are the ones we need to empower. We must amplify their voices so that they echo through the generations of lady lawyers. Having come so far, we still have a ways to go, and we are progressing – little-by-little, piece-by-piece.

We have the power in our very own hands to shape a legal profession we are proud of. It’s up to us to keep inspiring, encouraging, empowering those who believe in the value of women in our legal workplaces. We need to enforce the belief that women belong in all areas of the profession, particularly in leadership roles. Women need to be given a chance to guide our profession in a way that combines all the great learnings of this honourable profession’s history – with all the creativity, innovation and hope for the future.

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

 Join me in changing the culture of women in Law and inviting them to the decision-making table within the legal profession. Join me in celebrating what women have and continue to bring to the profession.

*This piece was originally published in the Queensland Law Society’s Proctor Online on 13 May 2021.

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Leadership in law

Leadership is a lot of things and is not a lot of things.

People have different ideas of leadership and it can often be a negative experience with an employer/boss that teaches us what we feel leadership really is and what it’s not. If we desire leadership in our own futures, it may also inform us what kind of leaders we want to be. There are quotes aplenty when it comes to leadership. Here’s a few of my favourites:

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence” – Sheryl Sandberg

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” – John F Kennedy

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“He [*She] who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander” – Aristotle

“No man [*or woman] will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself [*or herself] or get all the credit for doing it” – Andrew Carnegie

“We cannot ask others to do what we have not done ourselves” – Christiana Figueres

“Leadership is service to others” – Denise Morrison

[*some of my own adjustments added].

There are also some great books on leadership. Many with anecdotes and formulas of what makes a good leader. It would be remiss of me to talk of leadership without acknowledging the difference in leadership styles and approaches. The different attributes of different types of leaders are clearly evident then when, typically, you’re looking at male leaders and female leaders. To be very clear here, that is not to say that males or females are better or worse in leadership roles than the other. Lack of leadership skill does not discriminate between the genders. For years now, we have spoken of leadership attributes of females that are rarely, if ever, seen in male leaders. We speak of empathy, compassion, love, kindness, acceptance, sensitivity, self-awareness, inclusion, organised, creative, openness etc etc. These attributes are typically and historically assigned to women by nature. These attributes can also be typically and historically considered to be weak. Recently, as a result of the incredibly shocking and heartbreaking events in Christchurch, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, demonstrated attributes of sincere leadership that have often been overlooked or undervalued; integrity, sincerity, empathy, compassion and love. Reading various articles about her leadership, I found that it was the first time that I had seen, in mainstream media on the world stage, a female leader being celebrated for attributes that have historically been viewed as weak or less than desirable in a leader. So many articles, like this onethis onethis one and this one. All of these articles are championing these attributes and silencing critics around the world for this woman’s approach to leadership. Finally, a woman has demonstrated that leadership is more than what it has historically been showcased. Finally, a woman in power has demonstrated that these attributes are moving, powerful and can help achieve great things. When it comes to law, there a few things about leadership (or lack thereof) that always stand out to me.

Leadership is not….

  • A title
  • Being bossy or demanding
  • Setting unrealistic expectations
  • Seeking answers without knowing the question
  • Bullying and/or belittling others
  • Demanding the destination without understanding the path
  • Undermining others
  • Valuing experience over potential
  • Taking credit for others work
  • Determining the value of each person based on the same thing
  • Simply telling people what to do
  • Always being right
  • Raising your voice
  • Not listening
  • Avoiding or forgetting leadership development
  • Thinking your better than anyone else
  • Talking at your people

Leadership is….

  • Leading by example
  • Teaching and mentoring
  • Knowing your people and understanding their strengths and weaknesses
  • Giving support, especially when the chips are down
  • Encouraging and empowering people
  • Having a plan and executing it
  • Encouraging collaboration
  • Setting clear expectations
  • Setting a standard by demonstrating that standard
  • Being the change
  • Having clear vision
  • Lifting your people up
  • Giving credit where it is due
  • Celebrating wins (big and small)
  • Sharing in reflection on the losses collectively
  • Having and demonstrating integrity
  • Communicating effectively
  • Giving meaningful and constructive feedback
  • Not being afraid to say “I don’t know”
  • Admitting mistakes
  • Talking with your people

You don’t need to have a title such as partner/director, special counsel, senior associate, associate etc etc to be a leader. You can dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Act like a leader, if that’s what you want to be. Demonstrate leadership skills in your job and they will shine through. Take opportunities where they present themselves, and seek them our when they don’t. The chatter around the world about leadership attributes is thought-provoking and driving change. Change and evolution can demonstrate how some of these attributes that leaders and aspiring leaders can (or do) embody can encourage those leaders and their teams to embrace the power of such a change now and in the future. This blog post seeks to speak to and support aspiring leaders and encourage them to seek leadership if they, too, see value in championing these attributes for their own teams or from within their current team or community; To challenge and, if appropriate, educate those who are currently in leadership and to aid self-awareness and reflection; To help people gain perspective of leadership from other walks of life (and those walks may be people just like those that are a part of their own team) to help them succeed in leadership; To drive change and forward thinking; To champion the lesser-welcome or lesser-known attributes of modern leadership in an ever-evolving society to show the world that they are powerful.

What do you think makes a leader? Do you have a favourite quote about leadership?

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Authenticity

authenticity (noun) the quality of being real or true

Recently I gave a presentation to some lovely people that involved some talk about authenticity. Granted, it was in the context of marketing, but the message was/is, in my view, still very important. In the beginning steps of learning more about myself, both my personal and professional selves, I found that I was often being called on to be someone I really wasn’t. Always eager to please (people pleaser, here!), I worked harder than ever to be the person I was “meant” to be. But, the question I never asked myself was “who says I have to be that person” and “why that person and not the person next to them”. Ultimately, I found myself questioning why…. and, more specifically, why I wasn’t asking myself who I was and who I should be… It was this question that made me think deeper and more meaningfully about who I really was, deep down, and intentionally not taking into account anyone’s views of who I should be. This was a difficult process because it required me to think about and engage with comments from others about me.. the good, bad and the ugly. Whilst difficult….

I found this immensely empowering.

I found myself learning more about myself and, through that, found more confidence and pride in that person. Something that I had really struggled to find before. Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of moments, but some of those moments have just become more enlightened and, perhaps, softened by a self-awareness. What I found in my professional world was that people responded much better to this person I truly was. My conversations flowed better and I didn’t feel as awkward trying to be this other person. I was just being myself. To me it demonstrates the invaluable nature of authenticity. How much it can impact on your daily experience, both professionally and personally and how darn empowering it can be. Through this, I have found a new approach to what I do and how I do it and a new type of confidence. If you feel a bit out of step and awkward, perhaps give some thought and ask yourself are you being your true self, and if not, why not? What have you got to lose?

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The best version of yourself

I love anecdotes, quotes and old sayings.

I also like bright things that spark light and happiness.

We’re in the business of people. People are our business. So, it is a natural progression that human qualities and attributes are at the heart of what we do, day in day out, but also at the heart of success (whatever your definition of success may be).

There are a few things that I try to live by that I think make a big difference to my happiness in my work life and my life life too.

  • Kindness above all: there is no reason or excuse for being unkind.
  • Perspective is a wonderful thing: stopping for a moment and thinking about an issue from someone else’s perspective can be insightful, moving and even life changing.
  • A smile is exceptionally powerful: ever thought of how much your smile can impact another. I once went into the Supreme Court of Queensland and through the security scanner thingy majig. I smiled at the security guard as he greeted me (a big, meaningful, toothy smile). He smiled back (a big, meaningful, toothy smile), in return. I then overheard him as I walked away (after being suitably scanned) remarking to his colleague how I had smiled at him and acknowledged him and how rare that is and how wonderful it was. It made me happy and sad. Happy because I made someone happy, but also a little sad that it was such a rare experience for the gentleman. It was that moment that made me reason how powerful a simple smile can be.
  • If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all: old-school, yes. But valid.
  • You never know someone’s internal/personal battle: I try to remind myself of this when I’m faced with someone difficult. While I feel there is no excuse for being unkind, rude, disrespectful etc, there could possibly be an explanation. Either way, we don’t know what kind of battle someone is fighting inside or personally. Nor is it our business. It is our business, however, to forgive, accept and move forward.
  • There is always a silver-lining: it may sound unbelievable, but I do believe this. Even in the most horrid of situations or experiences, I try to remember this. I remind myself that while the silver-lining is probably covered in oil and sludge in the back corner of an abandoned 1920s mechanic’s shop, but it is still there. Perhaps it’s maturity, education or insight that we gain. Eventually it will come to light. Sometimes we might just have to be patient.
  • The glass can always be half-full: kind of the same as the silver-lining coupled with a little bit of “perspective”.
  • Dress for the job you want, not the job you have: this is not a reference to the clothes on your back, but your mentality. Job does not define who you are and what you can achieve in that job.

It can be hard sometimes, certainly. But,  it’s worth a shot. Perhaps you can try it out? For a whole week, smile big and toothy and genuinely at your colleagues when you greet them. Even try smiling big, toothy and genuinely at the service station attendant. Sometimes you will get the not-so-happy responder, however, you might be surprised at other responses.  Go on, give it a go. What do you have to lose?

Be the spark in someone’s day.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you’ve said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget they way you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

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Human lawyers; NOT an oxy moron

There are days that are going to be really hard to get through. That’s a fact.

What you do with that day, the feelings you feel, the decisions you make, the lessons you learn, even the anger you harbour; that is your choice.

In the adversarial environment that is, more often than not, the law, it’s easy to forget that we’re human and so are our opponents, our work colleagues, our clients.

Particularly because of the nature of the legal environment, honesty of ones feelings and vulnerability aren’t traits that are necessarily celebrated. This is a real shame; that conversation about the value of these things is a topic for another day.

What I think is important is that we are mindful of the human element of law. To see through the law, the procedure, the client demands and remind ourselves that we are only human. And, importantly, treat others the way we would want to be treated. Yes, that’s an old age adage but how true is it?!

Show compassion, be kind, be human.

I remember walking into the Supreme Court only a few months ago and I smiled, as I always do, to greet the guards at the security desk. I greeted them with a “Good morning”, they returned the welcome and smiled, quite genuinely. I then walked away, after sending my well wishes to them for the rest of the day, and I overheard one of them say to their colleague how nice it was to be smiled at and greeted. It was a bittersweet moment. I was so pleased that I had a positive impact, and so sad that it was a rarity that promoted comment. Needless to say, the experience stuck with me.

It may be the smallest of gestures, but the value of such a gesture is immeasurable and unknown.

You never know the battles, be it personal or professional, that someone is going through and your small gesture of support, a small smile just because or offering to help them collate documents, can make such a significant difference to a person who is suffering in silence. You could help them through their day, week or even just the next hour (!), by showing your humanity and applying kindness and acceptance in your engagement.

Wellness is so important and so is being a good human. Help your colleagues to maintain their own wellness. Ask the question “are you OK?” (And not just on RU OK? Day – although yes, do it then too!).

You don’t have to have the answers to their problems; you only need ears to listen.

Great things are done by a series of small things done together

Vincent Van Gogh

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Reflecting on mistakes

Mistakes have an indeterminable value, despite whether you make them yourself or not.

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them yourself

Eleanor Roosevelt

Reflection is a beautiful and powerful thing.

There is a gut-wrenching feeling that one can experience that is unique to a mistake of your own making. But, is that the only mistake you can learn from?

Reflection is an amazingly powerful tool to inform and educate a person. I have always believed in the power of reflection as a significant tool in self-awareness and self-development.

Being curious about another person’s life and work can help people gain varying perspectives about things that may speak to them about their own journeys and experiences. By talking to others, whether it’s in a professional capacity or not, of varying backgrounds and experiences, you can achieve a greater insight into different worlds.

Consider this alongside the legal landscape. As lawyers, do we not reflect on other’s mistakes or challenges (i.e. precedents) to inform or perfect our own problem solving approach? Think about legal questions, but also think about day-to-day experiences; e.g. working with a difficult personality in the firm, or approaching a person for a job.

If there’s ever a perfect time to make a mistake, it’s at the beginning of your career. It’s the time where mistakes are somewhat expected and, lets face it, you always learn (whether you like to or not) when a mistake is made because, following that gut-wrenching feeling I spoke of above, you never, ever want to experience that feeling again.

Despite your level of experience, mistakes are inevitable. The real value is in how you respond and rectify the mistake.  This is a hard concept for lawyers to really believe because of our egos. We don’t want to be wrong. We can’t be wrong. The thing is, we can and we will be wrong sometimes. You’d think that given that we often argue about legal principles that are very grey that we would accept that sometimes we would lose, but weirdly enough, it seems that a ‘loss’ falls like a lead balloon in our very souls! Ok, yes, dramatic, but sometimes that kind of description can fit.

The thing to remember, in this context, is that we will be wrong. We are human. We must remain focused on acknowledging the wrong, accepting that it happened, and putting a plan in place to rectify it as best as can be achieved. Most importantly, we should find a way to learn something from it.  I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that although the reason may not always be immediately clear, this is where reflection can be your saving grace.  Whether it’s a legal question we get wrong, or how to communicate with a difficult person in the office, it’s an experience, a story, and something to learn from.

The beauty of learning from other’s mistakes as well as our own is that we have the chance to increase our learning opportunities beyond measure. If we open up this opportunity to learn, we expose ourselves to an incredibly varied and colourful landscape of education.  If we engross ourselves in the worlds of others, talk with them, share stories and experiences with them, we have the beautiful ability to reflect with them (or on our own, whichever you prefer) about those stories and experiences. We can even embellish some of the stories, build upon them, as we reflect on those stories to help us learn what we can take away from those stories and experiences. Where did mistake happen? What could have avoided the mistake? How would I have reacted? What would I have done? How can I help avoid that happening to me?

This is exactly what we do in practice. We learn from past experiences when we deal with legal matters. So, what’s to say we can’t apply the same to all other types of experiences?

So, here’s a mirror; what can you see?

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Value of time spent

Is there someone in your workplace or law land world that you don’t really get or struggle to work with?

Do they make your work difficult or are they always at odds with you?

I think it’s safe to say that it happens to all of us. What you do to work with these people depends on you, though.

Remember when we learned the basics of negotiation? Positions vs Interests?

No? Hmm maybe you review your notes or you can cheat and google it (I won’t tell anyone!)

One of the things we get taught is to take the time to understand the position of the parties and their interests to understand how you may find a resolution that both parties can live with. What they say they want, may not really reconcile with why they want it or what there underlying values or motivations (ie their interests) are in taking that position.

I’ve always drawn a likeness to this approach when dealing with people I’ve found difficult or challenging in some way.

What motivates them? What do they value? Where have they come from? What is their background?

These questions may be easier to uncover for some than others. If you have good intuition, you could work these things out organically.

The way to find these things out is to spend time with them. I appreciate this can be difficult. Maybe if you’re in the tea room or lecture theatre together, strike up a casual conversation. It doesn’t have to be lengthy or even particularly thought-provoking and it may take multiple attempts. You have to start somewhere. The purpose is to learn about them. It will take multiple interactions to start to unravel their position and their underlying interests.

The purpose of this process is learn about them so you can learn how to effectively communicate them to achieve the desired outcome; to work effectively with them.

Can you find a common interest or just a common ground? Do you both enjoy the coffee from that cafe whilst others prefer the one down the street?

People fundamentally like talking about themselves. They also like the sound of their name. These two things were pointed out to me when I read How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie and they’re super true. Admittedly, when I read this and then adapted it when speaking with people at a networking event, I could barely believe the result. It was like I learnt how to slice bread!

Try using their name back to them when you speak to them; “So, Brett, where do you get the best coffee around here anyway?” OK, perhaps a corny example, but you probably get the gist!

We all communicate differently. Some communicate verbally, others may do so more non-verbally (ie body language etc).

Importantly, and more broadly speaking, spending time with and observing people can help you learn more about different communication styles and consider how you may evolve your own communication styles to enable you to break down barriers between people. Maybe even between you and the person you currently struggle with.

While your original motivations to work through this may be associated with this particular person, the benefits to be gained from undertaking this process are enormous. The skills and comfort level you can associate with this practice will help you in everything you do, particularly so in the practice of law and dealing with clients, negotiating deals or just dealing with people in your workplace.

Fundamentally, in all the above, you have to mean it. People can see through disingenuous conversation. Your commitment to this also needs to be long term. This is an ongoing and meaningful commitment to a good working relationship.

Spend the time to get to know the people around you.

You may be surprised by what you learn.

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Curiosity is a good thing

You know some of the most interesting and insightful things I learn come from the oddest of places. It also comes from being curious. Asking questions. Listening to others.

I read the book called “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. In fact, here’s a link to help you on that journey!

The book is a bit old school, which, I must admit, I kind of like. It was originally published in 1932. But what I love about the fact that’s it’s old is that is still so darn relevant now.

A number of things stood out to me while reading this book. One of the biggest of which was how much we love the sound of our own voices and how many times we say “I”. Admittedly, whilst I read through this book, I found it a little confronting but alot enlightening.

The reason I mention this book in the context of being curious is as a result of this idea of being mindful of how many times we say “I” and how many times we just keeping talking and perhaps not listening as much as we should.

Curiousity can foster great things. It can foster learning (of course), creativity, opportunities and relationships.

There’s really no reason to be afraid of being curious. If you’re trying to make an impression on someone where you’re trying to sell yourself or your services, asking questions can seem like your admitting that you don’t know something. This might be against the general tenor of what you’re trying to say which might be something like “I’m awesome, hire me/refer me work”. BUT what I think we need to focus on here is the fact that people love talking about themselves.

Being curious does not mean you are uneducated, unskilled or stupid. It means you are curious. It means you wish to learn more. It means you want to develop your understanding. It means you want to listen to the person you’re asking questions of and you’re wanting to learn more about them and what they do.

It also gives a much better understanding of what that person does, who they are and where they come from which gives you a much better standing to tailor your pitch, your sell, your approach to problem solving to that person in a way that will get their attention. You can learn more about where someone is going if you know where they’ve been. It informs and gives context and background to a person or their problem.

If someone assumes things about another, they’re going to risk getting it really wrong and damaging a relationship before it’s even had a chance to begin, let alone blossom!

Be genuinely curious by asking questions and genuinely interested in the answer that follows.

We can learn so much from others so start asking questions.

The cat will be fine.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash with grateful thanks.

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The thing about job titles

… is that it’s just a title. Job titles do not describe the work that you’re actually doing and what value it has to you and your development.

Take the title “Administrator”. I’m not necessarily speaking of an Administrator in the legal industry, but any type of industry.

What is an Administrator? Do they “administer” stuff? What does that even mean?

Whilst I appreciate that the title may give you some “idea” of what work that is, and many people would make assumptions about what that job entails, it doesn’t truly give an explanation of the tasks, responsibilities involved in the job nor does it speak of the skill sets of the person who holds the position.

For the record, Administrators are exceptionally talented people. They can, and often do, embody many (and in some cases all) of the following other tasks or responsibilities within their job:

  • personal assistant (don’t get me started on how broad that title can be!)
  • project manager
  • accounts receivable
  • accounts payable
  • appointment setter
  • client liaison officer
  • receptionist
  • typist
  • transcriptionist
  • procurement officer
  • office manager
  • contract manager
  • purchasing officer
  • IT consultant
  • multi-tasker
  • fire putter-outer

What the above list is designed to demonstrate is this; the title alone doesn’t tell you much of anything about what the person who holds that role does, what skills they have or their experience.

Thinking back to the legal industry; why is this important? Thinking the above through for a moment, gives us a glimpse and perhaps encouragement not to judge a book by it’s cover and also to redirect your focus on the fundamental job responsibilities, skills and experience it offers.

Whether your searching for a first job, fresh out of uni, or you’ve been in law a while, this is a meaningful and valuable thought process to undertake.

If you’re a person in the “first job” category of this thought process, think about what the job may offer you in developing your skill sets, giving you experience in the industry, how much exposure you may have that industry, the workplace, the culture, and how valuable that could be.

If you’re a person in the “been in it a while” category of this thought process, the process of considering the work may come a little easier because you’ve had the experience in working in the field, so you know what kind of things to expect in terms of the work. However, when you’re looking at a title, the work description is going to be all that more important.  It can be hard for people to leave a certain title behind, particularly when people associate titles with importance. It’s also impacted by ego. It’s ok; “ego” isn’t a dirty word; we all have one. I think the more we acknowledge that we have an ego, the better we are able to understand it and [possibly] keep it in check, when necessary.  It’s fair to say that leaving behind a “senior associate” title or “director” title can be pretty hard, having regard to these things. While the title may feel like a ‘backward’ step in your career, if the work is good, challenging, exciting, and gives you a chance to really grow, develop and ticks all your boxes, what real difference does the title make?

I think this thought process is important for two reasons:

  1. a constant reminder not to judge a book (i.e. a job) by it’s cover (i.e. it’s title) ;
  2. to provide an insight into the value of a job opportunity even if the title doesn’t say what you would prefer.

For the non-lawyer titled jobs, there can be so much valued gained in experience in jobs that are not technically legal practice that can place you well for further development. This is particularly so for those that have finished uni and have found it difficult to find the right graduate role.  This is particularly so where the non-practice job is within a legal environment. (A common example may be a paralegal or a legal assistant role; these jobs are exceptionally valuable to a law student or graduate looking to learn about working in law). The kinds of opportunities that can present themselves from such an experience can include:

  • on the job experience;
  • exposure to legal practice;
  • learning from new colleagues who are lawyers and non-lawyers;
  • networking;
  • exposure to and experience in marketing;
  • upskilling and professional development seminars (internal and external);
  • opportunity to be considered when new jobs become available in the business;
  • experience in dealing with clients/customers;
  • working with individuals and different size teams;
  • working on projects with others;
  • understanding the business of law works.

Administrative roles in law can be the most valuable thing on your resume and also the thing that makes you stand out against the rest of the candidates vying for a job as a practitioner.

Some employers even value experience like this over the value of exceptional grades. The reason? Because the practice of law is so wildly different to the theory we learn in uni. A person can be an exceptional law student, with the best possible grades, but could have real difficulty in dealing with clients and/or colleagues or managing a file. Conversely, a person can have great real life experience working within law but have mediocre grades. Grades are absolutely important; there’s no doubt about that. However, what is important to remember is that there is incredible value in other attributes outside of grades.

Experience is invaluable to standing out and demonstrating your point of difference when you are advocating and selling yourself in the job application process.

This same approach can be useful when you’re been in practice a while as well when tossing up between practising roles that have different titles, like “associate”, “senior associate”, “director/partner” etc etc. Whilst once upon a time, these titles indicated a certain level of seniority, but there is starting to be a shift in this line of thinking. There are many practitioners that have been in practice for 10, 15, 20 years and hold the title of “lawyer”.  A person’s title is not the valuable part of their role, it is the years and breadth of their experience that speaks to their quality of work and skills in providing exceptional legal service to the public.

It is easy to say, but don’t be worried about what other people think, either. At the end of the day, your career is yours; not theirs. Fundamentally, it is the work itself that makes a difference to our growth, development and happiness in what we do.

Be flexible and open minded. Taking on new opportunities, new challenges and something different can provide you with rewards that you never contemplated. You never know who you will meet in the process. Connections and networking is an absolutely essential part of the success of any individual in business (and in law) and is also a separate topic of it’s own, for another day.

Titles, are just that; titles. They are not job descriptions nor are they an all inclusive demonstration of the value of engaging in that job or learning the things that job/workplace/experience will provide.

My two cents = consider the title, sure, but don’t let that be the deciding factor of any opportunity you consider. What will you learn? Who will you meet? How will this contribute to my development? Where could this lead me?

Photo by Austin Kirk on Unsplash with grateful thanks.