Coping with change: challenge or opportunity

Change is one of the few certainties in the legal profession at the moment, with several top law firms either announcing or in talks to merge. There’s no doubt that a sizeable number of lawyers will experience considerable change at work this year.

If change is on the cards at your firm it can be tempting to become overly focused on what might be when in fact it is better to take stock and be ready for change. A good way of doing that is thinking of yourself as always spinning three plates, which are your job fitness, career fitness and personal fitness. In my experience lawyers, and particularly female lawyers tend to focus on job fitness at the expense of the other two. To thrive in the face of change you need to pay attention to all three.

Job fitness
By continuing to maintain high levels of performance during times of change you will help to ensure you standout. A good lawyer responds to their client’s needs; a great lawyer anticipates them before they happen. To be able to do this you need to do more than just work in a “head down” way. It’s genuinely hard to wrest your gaze away from the specifics and look ahead when you’re up to your eyes in work. The work is very detailed and yet being able to step back and consider the context and possible consequences is vital too.

Varifocal perspective is challenging for most people as we naturally tend to be either big picture or detail-focused. It’s really about forcing a discipline on yourself. For detail-focus people you must ask yourself before a key meeting, “What do I want to achieve in this meeting? How does this fit into the bigger picture?” For the big picture people, find a colleague who is really into the detail and ask yourself “what would they notice in this piece of work that I haven’t?”

emma article

Emma Spitz

Career fitness
The lawyers I coach are often so focused on their day jobs that they don’t take the time they should to stand back and think longer term about their career. Consider what opportunities the changes happening might offer.

Networking needs to be number one on your career fitness checklist. That involves keeping track of where your colleagues move to and LinkedIn is invaluable for this. Don’t wait to start networking until you need to.

Also, pay attention to your profile internally, if there ever was a time to ensure you are well known and supported within your firm it is during times of change.

Personal fitness

Physical fitness is essential to navigate stressful times of uncertainty and change. The endorphins created through exercise are proven stress busters. When you’re “all out” on a deal, get tough about carving out time to look after yourself with a healthy quotient of sleep, nutrition and exercise. You wouldn’t dream of running the risk of driving a car without fuel so why take that risk with yourself? Studies have shown that prolonged periods of intense head-down work with too little rest will severely affect your judgment, and as you are being paid for quality thinking you need to ensure that you are indeed thinking in a quality way.

Psychological fitness is inextricably linked to physical fitness. Many of the people I coach have the Headspace app on their phones so they can do some light meditation (seven long breaths is a minute’s meditation) when they feel their adrenaline and cortisol rising. The brain functions differently under stress, closing down creativity. To find a new way to look at a case or inject some fresh thinking you first need to break off and still the mind.

Change creates opportunities. Follow these tips to ensure you are ready to seize them when they arise.

Emma Spitz is a Director at the Executive Coaching Consultancy. She has over twelve years experience advising City law firms and coaching female lawyers on their career development.

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