Publish date: 27 October 2020
Hugh Powell

This quote is attributed to Albert Einstein. A bit dramatic perhaps, but important nonetheless.

Learning is an inherent aspect of life as a lawyer. It never stops. From law school, to PLT, to accumulating CPD points every year.

But what is the most effective and efficient way to approach ongoing learning?

I recently came across a Working Paper^ about the role of reflection in individual learning. The central theme involved a comparison between learning through practice vs learning through reflection. The paper explores which learning strategy produced the most effective, efficient, and better performance outcomes.

Choosing between these two strategies involves a trade-off.

For example, for every minute spent reflecting on how to improve, by considering a case that has just settled, there is an opportunity ‘cost’. That time could have been spent working on the next case, which provides learning through the accumulation of additional experience.

One of the findings of this Working Paper suggests that reflection-based learning builds confidence in one’s ability to deal with a task through one’s improved understanding of the task.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that many law firms are structured in a way that inherently discourages reflection. With many firms measuring performance against billable units, effectively seeking to monetise all available working time, little room is left for “non billable” reflection time.

I am not advocating for one over the other – efficient and effective learning consists of both practice and reflection.

However, at least in the legal profession, the balance between the two is not supported.

This is particularly relevant for junior lawyers who are bombarded with new experiences on a regular basis – reflection of those experiences must form part of their learning journey to put their experience into practice.

Finding the time for reflection is easier said than done. It can be difficult to prioritise something that does not immediately produce a reward or provide any tangible benefit for your firm.

It is a challenge that I would strongly encourage all junior lawyers to meet – allocate time in your day, or week, for reflection. There are always situations that, in hindsight, could have been managed differently for a better outcome. Investing time to properly understand what could have been reduces the risk of making the same mistake twice.

It will take (non-billable) time. It will require a balancing act. But it will make you a better lawyer.

^Reference: MAKING EXPERIENCE COUNT: THE ROLE OF REFLECTION IN INDIVIDUAL LEARNING


Hugh Powell
Hugh Powell
Senior Associate
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