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Family Law

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06 MAY 2014

The seven habits of highly effective family solicitors

In this new blog, I want to offer some helpful hints and tips to beleaguered family law practitioners.

My first attempt will be a family law re-interpretation of the famous self-help guide written by Stephen R Covey in 1989, 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective'.

Bear with me, there might be a few helpful ideas and I promise this post will be short!

Habit 1: Be proactive

For me, this is about understanding that we are in control of our own decisions and that this is the primary determining factor of our personal effectiveness. Of course, with this power comes responsibility for the consequences of the choices we make.

So next time you are sitting at your desk feeling overwhelmed and stressed to the max, stop staring at your emails and talk to yourself.

You are in control, you have choices and you can make changes.

This may be something as simple as going home and getting some much needed rest, or you may want to take an objective look at your tasks and reprioritise. It doesn't matter - each of us will have a different response but the important point is that moment of realisation and a decision to act.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

This is as appropriate for a case, your career or your personal life.

We need to start with the destination- where we want to be - and envisage that clearly. Where are you when your senior partner offers you a salary increase/ promotion/ smile? What are you wearing, how does it feel? What's the response of others around you?

How does your client react to a really successful outcome? What does the judge say when you have made a persuasive submission?

Not only does this support your motivation to keep on track, it allows you to start thinking backwards to clarify the actions you need to take to achieve the outcome.

Habit 3: Put first things first

This is the one I break most often and I don't think I'm alone!

We often know very well what we need to prioritise and we do other things. We have to get into the habit of doing what we know we need to do in the right order of priority. This will save huge amounts of time and reduce anxiety and stress levels.

So, when you know you have a document/ important email/ report to prepare, do it first before you start playing Flappy Birds or checking your Facebook account. Just do it. If you can change this behaviour then you will have a much easier life!

Habit 4: Think win-win

We're now moving from the ‘independent' habits to the ‘interdependent' ones.

The basis of this habit is what Covey describes as an ‘abundance mind-set'. In other words, we allow ourselves to believe that there are enough resources and successes to share with others.

In family law, we are fairly well disposed to this concept. We know that a ‘winner takes all' outcome rarely leaves any true winners and several losers (sadly and often the children).

Looking to a solution (remember Habit 2?) which benefits everyone involved has got to be close to the right one. Whether you're thinking about your career or your case, proactively (see what I'm doing here- Habit 1) focus your efforts on identifying the win-win. You, your clients, your staff or colleagues- everyone will be more satisfied.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

We family lawyers think we have this one cracked, but do we really?

Notice next time when you are interviewing a client or speaking with a colleague: are you genuinely listening empathetically? Are you willing to be influenced by that other person or are you just waiting your turn until you can put your views across?

Covey's theory goes that if you do listen openly and with empathy then the other person is almost compelled to reciprocate. This creates an atmosphere of trust and care which is highly conducive to positive problem solving.

Habit 6: Synergise

Remember that old style management mantra ‘there's no "I" in team' to which Michael Jordan added ‘but there is in "win"!'

Lawyers tend to be quite independent creatures with much legal work being a solitary pursuit. But does it always need to be so?

And does it make for best outcomes for us and our clients?

I would suggest that- wherever possible - we work with others. It may be as simple as sharing knowledge, checking each other's documents or bouncing ideas about a tricky case around.

If we get in to the habit of co or team working, we can achieve much more than we can as individuals.

And finally,

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

What you say??

This means that you really must achieve some balance in your life. We all need to renew our energies, resources and pay attention to our health. Most of us busy practitioners ignore these basics. It even becomes a bit of a badge of honour and can produce a negative culture in firms. Going back to Habit 1: be the first to break ranks. In a confident and positive way make sure that you do start to redress that work/life balance and allow others to do the same.

If you've taken up any of the habits above then not only do you deserve this reward but you'll have got on top of your ‘urgents' and feel able to enjoy your free time.

Good luck with this. I try and rarely succeed but I guess what I'm saying is that the point is to keep trying!


Christina Blacklaws is director of Blacklaws Consulting.

She has 25 years experience in legal services, running high street, legal aid and virtual practices and, latterly, as the director of family law and director of policy at the Co-operative Legal Services.

Through her career and in her representative, regulatory and publicly appointed roles, Christina has developed a depth of knowledge, insight and market understanding which is unrivaled.

If you would like to discuss your business with Christina then please call (+44 (0)7714 230852) or email christina@blacklawsconsulting.com in confidence.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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