Managing your legal education

As lawyers, it is our legal knowledge that provides value for our clients. In law school we were provided with specific learning goals from our professors and the law school curriculum, however, as practising lawyers we are responsible for our own learning, and at the end of the day we are responsible for managing our knowledge growth.

As busy lawyers, managing our self-education can be challenging — time restraints, information overload, and the stress of managing a practice can all create roadblocks to our best intentions. Here are some ways to take control of your legal education and manage your knowledge growth.

Develop a daily reading list

One of the challenges is how to navigate the flood of information we encounter everyday from newspapers, legal blogs, magazines, and web sites. You may find a few good sources are better than many sources when staying informed with legal issues, world events, and personal interests. Choose a few good sources and make them part of your routine. This will allow you to cut through the endless waves of information and quickly focus on what you need to know.

Keep your learning accessible

As I have stated in some of my other columns, there are many ways to access articles for free be it on your tablet or smart phone. For the news I recommend Pulse, an app that allows you to aggregate hundreds of news sources into a single access point. For web sites I recommend Pocket (formerly Read it Later) where you can download articles and web sites for later when you do not have an Internet connection. For law related apps, see my earlier columns “iPad apps for lawyers,” “Blackberry apps for lawyers,” or “iPhone Apps for Lawyers.

Learn to be selective

Develop a learning system that has the ability to say “yes” to some information sources and “no” to the rest. Albert Einstein was said to be brilliant at focusing on the task in front of him and part of his success came from his ability to say “no” to everything else. We simply cannot consume everything, so be mindful when you choose what you will say yes to and learn it well — don’t fall into the trap of getting sidetracked.

Keep it interesting

If it feels like work, it probably is. To manage your knowledge growth, you need to keep the process and information interesting. One of the benefits of taking responsibility for your legal education is to expand your mind and inspire you. Like a hot cup of coffee in the morning, it should get your mind warmed up and energized.

Print your reading

If you like to read legal news or columns, you may find it is easier to read them in paper form. If that’s the case print them off. Alternatively, if you have an e-reader, consider saving the articles to PDF or some other acceptable format. Be sure to have a system in place for easy future reference, either on your computer or in a file folder.

Read for quality, not quantity

My office receives subscriptions from Canadian Lawyer, The Advocate, The National, Lawyer’s Weekly, The Verdict (Trial Lawyers Association of B.C.), Law Times, and other academic journals. How can all of this content be consumed in our busy schedules?

One method that works for me is to review the magazine and tab what I think I might read, then to hold on to the legal magazines and newspapers for two weeks before passing them on to the other firm lawyers. If I haven’t read the articles within that two-week period, chances are I won’t. If you are simply too busy and really want to read a particular article, consider scanning it and saving it in your electronic library for later.

Find out what other lawyers are reading

There are many excellent resources that deserve attention. Consider looking through the Canadian Law Blog List. This directory of Canadian legal blogs is organized into substantive law, province, and various niche categories that lawyers and law students can use to be better connected to the legal community.

Attend CLE you are interested in

CLE education is required by lawyers in B.C., but making poor choices can make these courses less effective. CLE offers many valuable courses that will help your practice, so choose wisely. Before signing up for any random course for credit, think about it carefully — you may as well attend the ones you will enjoy and benefit from. Generally, my experience has been the courses are top quality and well worth the cost.

Attend courthouse library seminars

In B.C., these are often scheduled for free and are presented by other lawyers. Make this an opportunity to see something different while learning something new.

Register for legal conferences

There are many legal conferences every year and they attract hundreds of lawyers with common interests. For example, the Pacific Canadian Legal Technology Conference has been held in Vancouver every two years since 2003. Another conference worth attending is the Canadian Legal Conference sponsored by the Canadian Bar Association. This year, this premier annual event will be held in St. John’s, NL, Aug. 15-17. The conference will feature outstanding professional development programs, sessions, and networking opportunities in a wonderful Canadian host city.

Set specific learning goals

I am someone who has developed a keen interest in legal technology and I attend and present at as many legal technology CLE events, conferences, and presentations as I am able. I regularly read on the subject of legal technology and small law firm management, and I also write on these topics for lawyers. I am the past chairman of the general practitioner solo and small firm conference, and past board member of the pacific legal technology conference. I have instructed CLEs on behalf of the CBA, Law Society of British Columbia, the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia, and the BC Courthouse Library.

I emphasize my experiences to show I have grown to enjoy ongoing legal education in areas that interest me. However, I am no exception. I know many lawyers who have found a legal education niche that continues to inspire their practice.

Instruct a course/write an article

I have heard it said many times if you really want to learn a subject, teach it. Over the years, I have come to appreciate firsthand the truth of this statement. Forcing hand and knowledge to paper in the form of an article is equally effective. Of course, teaching and writing is yet another means of paying it forward and creating an opportunity for the entire profession to benefit from our extra effort.

Peter F. Drucker said: “Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.” I hope you will take some of the tips I have set out in this article and create a path towards your innovation. Remember to set yourself up to focus on information that can help you learn what needs to be learned and store the information in a way you can easily access later when needed.

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