7 Habits Of The Highly Effective Pupil
Stephen R. Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is a phenomenal book on personal effectiveness. For over two decades, the insights in the book have inspired and empowered people across diverse ages and professions. This is true even for legal practitioners. In my opinion, lawyers who practice effectiveness at the start of their careers are geared for success. This article illustrates some of the ways in which trainee lawyers can apply the 7 Habits and bolster personal effectiveness.
Habit 1: They Are Proactive
As a pupil, you have only one job: to learn as much as you can in the shortest time possible. You can only achieve this by being proactive. What does this mean? First, you should exhibit diligence by finishing work assigned to you on time (the earlier the better) and when you are done, ask for more work. Secondly, learn about the culture of the firm or organisation that you are working for. Culture refers to the “way things are done” in the firm. For example, the firm may have a codified way of dealing with clients and client requests. Some firms require lawyers to put in extra hours while others may have a strict dress code. Understanding and adapting to your firm’s culture promotes your personal brand and increases your chances of thriving. Thirdly, take charge of your growth in the firm by taking on assignments that are beyond your comfort zone. Volunteer to help with all kinds of tasks ranging from administrative tasks such as photocopying to researching complex legal matters.
Finally, do not engage in blame games or pity parties. If you are not getting the most out of your pupilage experience, do something about it. Maybe, ask your pupil master to involve you in more projects or to provide more assignments. If this doesn’t work, try and see how else you can learn e.g. plug into lawyers’ networks; switch organisations; read books, etc.
Habit 2: They Begin With The End In Mind
An effective pupil should have an outcome mindset. Here are some practical examples:
i) If the law firm you work for is acting for the plaintiff or defendant the expected outcome is that you will secure a win for the client. If this is the end game, then there are actions expected to lead us to that point e.g. understand the facts of the case, look at the law to determine if your client has a good legal position, draft the court pleadings in a way that aptly represents the facts and evidence available, attend court all court dates and take good notes of proceedings. Also, keep your client posted on the likely outcomes of the case and where the client’s case looks weak, try to propose alternatives such as out-of-court settlements.
ii) If you working in an in-house law department the same applies. For example, If you are working on a contract the expected outcome is that your organisations will sign off a contract that fully protects its interests. Therefore, when drafting the contract, you need to know what your client needs to achieve and ensure the contract meets those objectives. You can only do so if you fully understand your client (organisation) and ancillary matters such as potential deal-breakers.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
“Putting first things first means organising and executing around your most important priorities” Dr. Stephen R Covey.
Effective pupils live by their priorities list. Every morning, you need to determine what things need top priority. Priorities can be determined by looking at the worst-case scenarios. What happens if this task is not done today? How will it impact my work? My client? My boss? The overall organisation?
Develop a to-do-list with the most urgent priorities at the top. Work with your list but be flexible as other demands may come through during the day that may need your urgent attention. If that happens, reorganise your list to accommodate the new tasks but do not drop the ball on the outstanding lists.
Lastly, you need to have a sense of urgency. Don’t approach assignments with lethargy and boredom. Be interested in the work you do and do it to the best of your ability.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
It may surprise you to learn that “The Winner Takes it All” hardly plays out in practice. As you go about your daily duties try to approach things from a win-win perspective. Work towards solutions that are beneficial to your organisation and the client. This requires you to be courageous enough to offer a different opinion where needed and to balance that courage with consideration of each party’s unique position.
Habit 5: Seek First To Be Understood Than To Understand
You must spend time understanding the business that you are serving. In a law firm, seek to understand the dynamics between Partners, Associates, and Pupils. Also, understand your clients, how they operate, the way they give instructions and the expectations they have of the firm. The same principles apply if you work in-house; seek to understand your client’s business and how you can add value to their operations. When you understand your clients/key stakeholders you will be in a position give accurate advice.
Habit 6: Synergise
You will not grow if you fail to keep an open mind and value teamwork. Bounce ideas off your peers and other like-minded persons in your firm. In doing so, you will receive deep insights into problems or challenges you may be facing. You will also develop your ability to invent new approaches to solving problems.
Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw
Life is not all about the law. You must strive to have a sense of balance. There are four areas of your life that must be continuously renewed. If any area is underserved, then you may find yourself over-indulging in the areas and you will soon start to experience some negative effects such as stress and illness.
- Physical: eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, exercise and have enough sleep.
- Social: make time to connect with your social circle i.e. your family and friends
- Mental: keep your mind active by reading, taking a course and writing
- Spiritual: connect with God through prayer, meditation, and acts of service
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