The thing about learning as a lawyer is there is never an end to it. Graduating from university is a major milestone, but it is only the beginning of the learning pathway we all embark on for the rest of our careers. Constant personal and professional growth are critical to progress in the evolving legal world (indeed any world!).
I regularly take the time for quiet reflection to assess where I am at, where I want to get to, and how I am going to get there. It may be I want to improve an aspect of my work performance where I am lacking in experience, a change in law I need to get on top of, or a formal qualification to take me to my next career stage.
The “how am I going to get there” is the bit that requires the most research and planning. There is a myriad of ways to learn – on the job training, formal CPD, post-grad qualifications, lived experiences, volunteering, independent research, committee involvement, coaching, and mentoring…the list is long. Even with all these options, I still hear that excuse voice in my head resisting change and saying “the time involved will be too demanding, the cost too expensive, I can’t get away from the office, I’m too busy with family, there’s too much travel involved”.
To manage the excuses, I’ve shifted my mindset and now visualise continued learning as an investment in myself. It allows me to focus on the value rather than make excuses about the process. I then take this a step further and assess “the return on investment for me”. Here are a few of the questions I find helpful when assessing value in my learning choices:
- Is this relevant to me?
Sure, this seems obvious and for most substantive law learning in your chosen field, the value is easily recognised. However, the question does require some examination of your own subjective experience. For example, attending a Family Law workshop will no doubt give you some learning outcomes of benefit, but are they the skills you most need to develop at this time. Would you be better looking for ways that could improve your Solicitor Advocate skills if you will be making more court appearances as part of your role?
Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself in areas where you are less experienced and go for the very specific skill set relevant to you. This is where the value lies.
- What are the learning outcomes from this activity?
This question is particularly relevant for more formalised learning. Many courses will teach you lots of things, but are they learning lessons that will take you where you want to go? Is there another course that is more relevant to you? For example, you may have always wanted to do a Master’s Degree. It would look great on the CV, but consider if it is better value for you to complete a Grad Certificate in Emerging Technologies in Law because you have some great start-up tech ideas you want to pursue.
- How will this progress my career?
Sometimes this is not always obvious or immediate and you may need to break this question down into incremental steps. It may be a formal qualification that develops you as an expert in your field, mentoring that builds your confidence allowing you to take on more responsibility, or presenting at conferences to enhance your reputation. Think creatively about the value the activity brings to your personal brand and your competencies.
- Is this something that will help my clients or firm/business?
Again an obvious question, but if you can specifically identify how the activity will help your clients or improve your business, then you have identified the value. For example, attending a webinar on alternate pricing models can improve your business by giving you the know-how to put in place fresh strategies to attract new clients. It is a simple process but motivates you to invest in the learning.
- Is it good for my mental health or my soul?
This is a catch-all and in many ways the most important. Without good mental health and happiness in your life, you cannot do all the other things you want to. Doing any activity in this space, physically, mentally, or spiritually is intrinsically valuable.
I encourage you to make a commitment to invest in you. It will involve thought, time, energy and money, but the prize is worth it and it will be the most powerful thing you can do for yourself this year.