Legal

How to think like a lawyer

Women's Agenda /

There is a very good reason why a law degree is highly coveted, and why it has surpassed Arts as the generalist tertiary qualification: law teaches you to think in a beneficial way.

“Thinking like a lawyer” can practically assist you in everyday life, through minimising risks, maximising success and avoiding costly decisions: costly both financially and emotionally.

Here are four ways you can use “legal thinking” skills without actually being a lawyer, and reap the benefits:

1. Never compromise your values. Honouring sacred values of integrity, courtesy and loyalty are fundamental to the legal professional. Yes, there are a few rotten apples (like in any industry) but the values that form the basis of lawyers’ professional obligations are critical to achieving justice. Never lose sight of what your core values are: reputations take many years to acquire but can be surrendered in a split second, depending on the decisions that you make. No job is worth compromising your values for: jobs and bosses will come and go, but you will have to live with your conscience long afterwards. Be true to yourself and your internal compass will always point in the right direction.

2. Know the rules. Whatever career path you’re following, whatever organisation you’re working for, the most powerful weapon you’ll have is knowledge about how and why things are done. Diligently understanding your target market will demonstrate your competence, as well as enable you to confidently find the loopholes that you can exploit to your advantage. A lawyer should never go to court unprepared; whatever your career or life ambitions are, do your homework so you’re fully equipped with the intel you need to achieve your goals.

3. Identify and address risk. Progress in life is impossible without taking risks. Every move we make involves taking a risk of some kind. Potholes can appear suddenly, but if you know what they look like, it’s far easier to avoid them. Be actively prepared for what could go wrong – literally write down the worst case scenarios and create strategies that you can implement if necessary. This is very much the essence of what lawyers do, especially those working in-house. There are various tools to mitigate risk, including insurance, savings and timing, but ultimately you need to be comfortable with the decisions you make.

4. Think strategically. Always have a Plan B – and if possible Plans C and D too. That way, you can have a back-up strategy ready to go if you don’t get there the first time around. Approaching it from a helicopter perspective will encourage you to think more laterally and creatively. Sometimes you may have to sacrifice impulsiveness, but it can also mean being ready to accept an exciting, unexpected opportunity if it fits into your long-term strategic plan. There are various ways to achieve an ultimate career goal – a vertical career trajectory isn’t the only way to do it: secondments and “horizontal” opportunities can equip you with skills and experience vital to achieving your ultimate destination. Having a strategy to guide you is the key.

Note: the above is general information and should not be considered as legal advice. Kate Ashmor is the principal of her own law firm, Ashmor Legal, focusing on conveyancing and property. When she’s not toddler-wrangling or tweeting, she serves as Chairman of Caulfield Park Bendigo Bank and as a board member of Alola Australia. She’s the immediate past president of Australian Women Lawyers and Women’s Agenda’s chief legal columnist. This story originally appeared on Women’s Agenda.

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