|6 ways to up skill daily|
By Angela Priestley, Associate Publisher, Private Media
Australia's most senior inhouse lawyers have identified three skills necessary for inhouse lawyers in 2015: influencing; strategic thinking; and an ability to translate complex information.
That's according to the Australian Corporate Lawyer Association's survey of 350 senior legal counsels, in its soon-to-released 2015 Benchmarks and Leading Practices report.
Developing such skills is all very well, in theory. But practically, when you're buried in work and possibly the sole lawyer trying to keep your company out of strife, how can you find the time to develop such skills in order to prove you're adding value to the business?
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to ensure continuous up skilling occurs as part of your daily routine. These may not always earn CPD units, but they are habits that will help you become a better lawyer.
1. Nurture your technical skills
First and foremost, eBay Australia’s head of legal, Shoshana Shields, says keeping your technical skills up to date is essential. You're the legal expert in the business. Your ability to influence, strategise and communicate relies on your expertise being relevant and current.
"Your technical skills inhouse have to be just as good, if not better, than if you were working in private practice," she says. "That's key. You have to be an expert in what you do, you have to be good at it, and you have to be willing to keep those skills up to date." So get excited by your area of expertise, keep abreast of relevant materials concerning it, and take pride in being your organisation’s go-to expert.
Shields also suggests inhouse lawyers retain contact with former colleagues and peers working in law firms. This can be through formal training events, or more informally via regular catch-ups. "We all learn from others so keep chatting with private practice, especially those who might be in your niche area."
2. Know the news - and learn from it
With the technical skills up to date, Shields highlights reading the business papers as important and recommends lawyers make it a part of their daily routines.
"You need to read the >em>Australian Financial Review, that should be a life skill," she says. "You need to understand what businesses are doing and why. You're going to be giving legal advice so you need to understand it all. There is so much that comes out of the AFR you should be across."
Such headlines can provide continuous learning about what other companies are doing wrong and right. It'll also give you an understanding of who and where your competitors are, as well as knowledge of movements within your own industry.
3. Keep building the network
Building and nurturing an excellent network is another means of ensuring your business and legal skills are continually evolving. This network should include those in the general business community (especially within your own industry) as well as lawyers working both inhouse and in private practice. This is especially important for very small and solo inhouse teams, opening necessary lines of communication that can aid continuous learning.
"There's nothing like having access to peer to peer conversations, sharing those questions of 'I'm having this issue, and can't go to the CEO' and learning from others’,” says ACLA CEO Trish Hyde.
The network should be nurtured at all levels – in person at industry and networking events and online via social media, especially LinkedIn.
4. Get mentors, and use them
Hyde adds that mentoring is another vital habit to develop for continuous up skilling, and can be pursued formally (such as through ACLA’s mentoring program, offered free to members) or informally by establishing your own mentoring relationships.
Mentors don't always have to be lawyers. Indeed, when it comes to improving influencing, strategic and communication skills, it might be better to look to people who successfully demonstrate such abilities elsewhere in a business.
Acquiring a good mentor comes down to identifying somebody who might be able to offer the guidance you believe you need. "You then have to approach them, they wont approach you," says eBay's Shoshana Shields. "You'll be surprised by how flattered people are by being asked to be a mentor. In most cases, you will get a yes."
And once they have said yes, it's your responsibility to own the relationship and to keep it productive.
5. Get comfortable selling
This habit could be the most unnatural for lawyers to try and develop, but it's one IKD director and leadership development trainer Jil Toovey believes will ultimately help those working inhouse to manage their workloads, and position themselves as a 'proactive' resource.
"I've always thought lawyers are crappy sales people," says Toovey. "But sales skills are important for convincing other people they have the skills they need."
Developing sales skills may involve working to eliminate the inner-critic, and learning how to articulate the value you bring to the organisation. It could be taking a few minutes out of each day to remind yourself what you bring in order to help develop your confidence, or looking to mentors and role models to see just how they manage to communicate their expertise to others.
6. Work the business
Toovey adds that inhouse lawyers should work their way around the business forging good relationships and seeking to learn from a range of different perspectives.
Get to know the bigger picture concerning your business and industry, make daily, conscious decisions regarding what more you could learn in order to help move the business forward. And make teaching and empowering others, even those outside of your own team, a standard part of your activities.
"It’s really about making a commitment and saying, 'I'm not just going to be a pair of hands that receives and does work’,” says Toovey. “It’s about deciding, ‘I'm going to assess the value of each piece of work I'm given and make a conscious decision about whether it's the best use of my time to manage it, or to empower somebody else to manage it’."
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