Publish date: 08 July 2021
TSP Lawyers with Kelly Phelps COO

Before attending a recent team building session we were asked to complete a personality test which could then be used to assist us to understand ourselves and our teammates better – what makes us tick, what drives us and potential clashes between different personality types. During the session we were asked to stand on different sides of the room alongside those who shared certain traits. It was not particularly surprising to me, but I found myself standing on the opposite end of the room to the group of lawyers (being one of the few non-lawyers in the group) in most areas. Apparently, I’m more flowy?

So, despite working in the industry for 15 years, I feel like I am somewhat of an objective observer, looking from the outside in. I have been fortunate to work alongside some high achievers who have excelled in their legal careers over that time

My learnings

When examining the habits of high functioning lawyers and paralegals in their natural habitat, I have noticed some similar traits amongst them. Here I have detailed five top traits:

1. Lack of “too hard” baskets

Instead of baskets, I have piles of documents which I like to move around my desk for no good reason when I’m busy and flustered – not helpful. I also have lists I like to rewrite as priorities change. For the likes of Travis Schultz and other effective lawyers and paralegals, they just don’t seem to do this – Travis picks up the first file on the pile, deals with it and moves on to the next. He doesn’t seem to put off the harder or less exciting jobs – this methodical approach is much more efficient then my lists and piles system! 

2. Not leaving jobs half-done

Similarly, finishing a task completely before moving onto the next seems just as important. I find it hard to ignore the “pings” from the inbox, but how good does it feel when you get in a flow, lose track of time and at the end, you can put a project to bed rather than needing to go back to it later (taking more time just to get back up to speed with it)? Attention management, rather than just time management, seems to be the aim for highly efficient professionals.

We happen to have one of the most efficient paralegals in Australia in our team, and she blocks time in her diary each day to make sure she can immerse herself in a meaty task and avoids all distractions during that block. It doesn’t sit well with my flowy personality, but I must admit, it works well for her. She’s a machine!

3. Focusing on critical tasks

I also think it’s important that legal professionals identify the tasks their time is most effectively and valuably spent on and do their best to “let go” of the rest. There are procedures in place and support provided for a reason, and highly effective lawyers capitalise on this (or, if it’s not there, they create it!). It’s not always easy for the perfectionists amongst them (there are a lot of those in the legal industry), but necessary if they plan to manage a large workload and stay healthy. Which leads me to…

4. Valuing good support

From my observations, those who ask questions and draw from the experiences of those around them (no matter what their level or job title), those who surround themselves with good people and then invest in training, mentoring and take time to build trust with their team find it pays dividends in the long run. A lawyer with a strong network of allies and experienced colleagues to lean on (and the humility to do so) will thrive as a result.

5. Give and give some more, but have boundaries

Some of the most successful lawyers I have met are incredibly generous by nature but also know how to set fair boundaries. There are only so many hours in a day and saying yes to every request might see you underperform because you have spread yourself too thin or will lead to burn out. Maybe you’re not the best person for the job, and your value is connecting the right people? Maybe you can help, but not right now or refine the scope? Exercise generosity but take a considered approach. Focus on tasks that you do best, and those that energise you.

Whether you manage a legal team, are a junior lawyer finding your way or just looking to be more efficient in your role, I hope this insider knowledge helps to shed some light on the path to success as a highly effective lawyer or professional.

I’m going to try to follow their lead and ditch the piles and procrastination – after I finish this blog (which I started instead of working through today’s to-do list…) – I’ll start tomorrow.

If you have any top tips to add to my list, I’d love to hear from you.


Lawyers Weekly – 5 habits of high-performing lawyers: An outsider’s view

Kelly Phelps
Kelly Phelps
Chief Executive Officer & Partner
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