The value of continuing personal development of legal practitioners

October 1st, 2018
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By Joel Zinhumwe

It is imperative to state that personal development is a personal responsibility. It takes an individual to cultivate a seed of self-driven goals and ambitions in order to grow and adapt to an ever-changing environment. Continuing personal development is not merely about the accumulation of continuing personal development points and ensuring that one’s membership is secured in any profession. It is also about progressive personal advancement and internal growth resulting in outstanding professionals in the legal industry. All legal practitioners want their firms to be successful, but only a few are willing to invest the necessary time for ongoing personal development to attain their goals. Making the commitment to grow one’s personal development is the first step in the journey to personal fulfilment.

Personal development can be defined as an ‘ongoing process of self-improvement either in your career, in your education, in your personal life, or in all these areas. It is about setting goals for yourself and putting plans in place to reach those goals’ (Lungiswa Nyatyowa ‘4 reasons why personal development should be a priority’ (www.oxbridgeacademy.edu.za, accessed 28-8-2018)). Personal development is a way to better understand yourself and your –

  • unique personality and potential;
  • strengths and weaknesses;
  • aspirations; and
  • talents to become an improved version of yourself.

Personal development applies to everyone, including professionals, which includes the legal profession. As important as it is for practising firms to ensure that the candidate legal practitioners are mentored and guided through the process of their articles, the onus is on the candidate legal practitioners to have the inner will to learn and better themselves. The candidate legal practitioner should drive the process of learning and ensure that they get the most out of their mentors and role models. The same applies to new and existing legal practitioners. In a market filled with legal practitioners with the same academic and professional qualifications, it takes the willingness of legal practitioners to continue learning and improve their skills, namely, people management skills, business management skills and so on. This will determine the difference between success and failure of legal practitioners when compared to counterparts in the industry. In other words, if you do not continue to learn new things, you will become out-dated.

Legal practitioners should take advantage of all the resources available to them to improve themselves and their firms. The Attorneys Fidelity Fund (AFF) has introduced a Compliance Support Programme, currently available to new legal practitioners in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces. This programme aims to equip new legal practitioners with knowledge … ensure that they have the necessary systems and processes in place for their firms. It also helps legal practitioners to have the understanding and appreciation of the preparation of trust accounting records. With such programmes in place, the onus is on new legal practitioners to take full advantage of the opportunity and improve themselves. Legal practitioners are free to contact the Practitioner Support Team at the AFF to seek the guidance and knowledge about any challenges that they may be facing.

Many benefits that can be derived from engaging in personal development and the website for Coaching Positive Performance (www.coachingpositiveperformance.com, accessed 28/8/2018) listed six core benefits of personal development mindset in detail as follows:

1 ‘Self-awareness’

Personal development begins with self-awareness. As a legal practitioner you get to know and understand who you really are by your values, beliefs and the purpose you wish to pursue. True fulfilment comes from chasing own goals and objectives. When you are chasing your own goals, there is as much pleasure to be derived from the journey as there is to be derived from reaching your destination. Self-awareness is the first fundamental step in the personal development process.

‘If you are not committed to your own personal development and, you lack self-awareness [and] you just give [up on] every problem you see. But when you are aware, you use the power of contrast to determine areas for personal development which will help you improve your life.’

2 ‘A sense of direction’

As a legal practitioner, ‘[w]hen you have a clear sense of direction, you can eliminate anything [that] does not take you in that direction. When you have done that, you can use the 80/20 principle to identify the vital few things which [will] take you in that direction with the greatest speed and least effort. … Personal development and a sense of direction allows you to shift your focus from quantity to quality.’

3 ‘Improved focus and effectiveness’

‘Improved focus and effectiveness comes with knowing and playing to your strengths. One of the biggest obstacles to [face] is distraction. Distraction mostly happens because you don’t see the great difference between the benefit you will derive from the activity you should be doing and the one you are distracting yourself with. Therefore, you work better when there is a deadline looming [namely] the benefit of meeting the deadline becomes much clearer and the problems caused by the distraction become just as apparent.

Being committed to personal development helps you to become more focused. It helps you to resist distractions without needing to have deadlines constantly looming. Because having too many deadlines can lead to too much pressure and stress. … When you see each task, project and activity for what it is [namely] a step along a continuous journey, you feel less desire to be distracted.’

4 ‘More motivation’

‘Once you accept that personal development is a continuous journey and, you commit to that journey [as a legal practitioner] you realise that each day you will become a little clearer about what you want. As you become clearer about what you want, you start to see how achieving your goal will improve your life. You can visualise the benefits you will experience. This is what builds the will to accomplish the goal. This is where your most powerful motivation comes from.’

5 ‘Greater resilience’

‘There will be tough times in life. When these tough times occur, you need to have the skills and attributes to deal effectively with them. Personal development cannot prevent bad things from occurring, but it will help you deal with them when they do. You will have greater confidence, resilience, personal and interpersonal skills to cope with any eventuality.

When you understand personal development, you learn that you can change just about any circumstance in your life. If you can’t change the circumstance, you can change your attitude towards the experience which makes it less unpleasant. Knowing all this allows you to stay calm, composed and in control when a crisis strikes. You can then determine the best course of action to take.’

6 ‘More fulfilling relationships’

‘When you improve your personal development, you are better able to see which relationships are worth investing in and which need to be cut loose. You also develop the skills to make the most of those relationships which have the most positive impact on your life. When you give no thought to your personal development, you give little thought to the value of your relationships.

When personal development is important to you, you ensure that your friendships are mutually beneficial, enabling both people to be the best they can be. You give as much time as possible to your family, friends and loved ones.’

Conclusion

Personal development involves your transformation as a person, which means becoming the best you can be in reaching your goals and your potential. When you become a better person – than you were yesterday – your life and its circumstances improve. This is usually attained by looking internally and then changing the way you act externally.

Joel Zinhumwe (FP) SA Bcompt (Hons) Accounting Science/CTA (Unisa) BCom (Hons) Accounting (MSU) is a Practitioner Support Supervisor at the Attorneys Fidelity Fund in Centurion.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (Oct) DR 20.

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