Are you 1% away from being the best lawyer you can be?
Since the Tour de France departed from the UK in 2014, there has been a huge increase in the number of people getting out on their bikes and taking a keener interest in all things cycling. Never before have there been so many conversations in this country about Le Tour, or so many cyclists on our roads than when Le Grand Depart set off from Yorkshire that day in July.
In the UK, the most famous cycling team is undoubtedly Team Sky. Headed up by Sir David Brailsford, with two British winners in two consecutive Tours (Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome – Froome went on to win again in 2015), Brailsford was also the mastermind behind Great Britain’s largest ever medal haul at the 2012 Olympics.
Much has been written about Brailsford’s methods, but probably the most translatable into the working world is that of ‘marginal gains’. As Brailsford described it first back in 2010: “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”
Brailsford believes that any suggestion that something can be done better should not be looked at as insult to the existing way of doing things “because we should always be striving for improvement, for those 1% gains, in absolutely every single thing we do.”
Brailsford took calculated risks that were deemed necessary to make Team GB that little bit better. He took this thinking into the Tour de France and improved every element of Team Sky’s preparations. Small improvements, like pillows and mattresses, the food that they ate, and even the lighting, seating and music on the team bus.
That is not to say that brutally hard work did not contribute to this success. When Victoria Pendleton retired after the 2012 Olympics, she spoke of the philosophy within the camp: “You have to be somewhere between exceptional and phenomenal. That’s tough. It’s difficult to maintain those standards. Chris Hoy manages it but I found it hard.”
However, all Olympic athletes work exceptionally hard, but to reach those highest heights it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
So, how can this be translated into your working life? Take a look at your working day and think about the tiny changes you can make that will improve the way you work. They are usually things that you don’t do because you imagine they are an added burden to your already busy day. Consider one element – for example, having a tidy desk. Now take the emotion out of it – the thought of how long it will take you – and just do it. You’ll realise that the job only took 3 minutes to do and you have a clear space to work from.
How often do you convert your WIP into invoices? Clients expect to be billed, so find 15 minutes each day to run through your list of clients and make sure that none of them has built up what would a very large final bill when they were expecting smaller interim bills. And don’t be afraid to chase unpaid bills. Set your stall out from the start and let clients know the terms of settlement of your invoices. Businesses run (and your progress in the firm depends) on invoices paid, not invoices sent.
Think about your appearance. Take pride in how you dress because clients will notice and it will impact on how they look at and think about you. When it comes to convincing people that you are a great lawyer, the first thing they will notice before you even open your mouth is how you dress. First impressions count, so always aim to be the best-dressed person in the room.
How involved are you in the firm’s business development? How often do you make BD-related calls? Simply doing the work that is put in front of you won’t see you rise through the ranks. The best lawyers are rain makers and are always looking out for new clients and new opportunities. If you’re a junior lawyer with ideas, take them to your head of department. They will appreciate the effort you are making and more than likely help you bring them to life.
What about the end of your day? You have finished amending that contract, emailed it to your counterpart, so you close the file and head out the door. But why not take 2 minutes to list the jobs you have or want to do the following day while everything you have done today is still fresh in your mind? Those 2 minutes will have no bearing on the time you get home, but it will mean that the next day you can get straight on with work.
How about setting your alarm five minutes earlier in the morning, so you’re not quite so rushed? Or taking a look at your diet and eating healthier lunches so you don’t feel so tired in the afternoons? Or switching your phone on divert when you are working on a matter that requires your full attention so that you don’t get distracted?
We can all take a few minutes to think about how we can make improvements to our working day, but most of us don’t because we are too rushed to help ourselves become more effective in what we do. But the best lawyers are always looking for ways to improve because believe they can always do better. And those lawyers become the best in their field.