Common sense the key differentiator of successful lawyers

By Emma Ryan|15 August 2016

The president of an Australian legal body has urged lawyers to go back to the basics to boost their profile within the profession.

Speaking at the Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW’s Leadership Luncheon Series, Professor Rosalind Croucher AM (pictured), president of the Australian Law Reform Commission, told attendees that while there isn’t one secret to success, the bulk of it relies on “really basic common sense, application and lots of practice”.

Professor Croucher’s speech outlined five steps that she believes can effectively position lawyers over the long term. The first, she said, is preparation.

“I think certainly knowing how to use your voice, to project, is crucial for women and for men,” she said.


“To have a commanding vocal presence, without sounding shrill or shrewish, is essential – pitch control and diaphragm support.

“As my singing teacher used to say, ‘Your vowels are in your bowels’. If you feel unsure ‘on your feet’ or with your voice, then get assistance. Knowing how to present to the whole room can be trained.”

Professor Croucher said a good way for lawyers to practice presentation is to film themselves and watch the footage.

“In my first year of teaching, at Macquarie University in my late 20s, I participated in a teacher improvement program that involved videoing one of my classes,” she said.

“It was the most enlightening [experience] and it was very comforting. I still cringe a little when I watch videos of myself but you have to become your sternest critic.


“If you have the opportunity to participate in some voice and presentation coaching then I urge you to embrace it. The Bar Association, for instance, is often advertising voice and presentation workshops.”

The second key for success and positive leadership initiative in the workplace is having confidence in one’s ability, according to Professor Croucher.

“Confidence is based upon being purposeful. If you ask, ‘Am I good enough?’ or [say], ‘If I were good enough, someone else would suggest that I apply for promotion, apply for silk, etc.’, then you will be unlikely to succeed,” she said.

“You have to have the confidence in your own abilities and achievements before anyone else will.”

Constancy was another key highlighted by Professor Croucher.

“Constancy is very like parenting,” she said.

“People, including children, need to know what to expect of you; and even before that, you need to know what to expect of yourself.

“I describe this as developing an inner gyroscope: it’s a point of moral equilibrium where you know that a decision is correct – your set of principles against which you can defend your judgments, even to yourself.”

Patience is also needed to be successful as an employee of a law firm, Professor Croucher said.

“Patience may be a virtue, but patience, quite frankly, is a challenge. It’s also an essential element in time management. And time management involves managing expectations,” she said.

“We can punish ourselves with a sense of the weight of expectations and, in its wake, a sense of failure – or at least disappointment – for not meeting them can be profound. In my experience, a great deal of expectation is self-inflicted.

“Managing the expectations you put on yourself and those of others is essentially about prioritising, and understanding what the bounds of ‘normal’ are in the particular area of concern. Here, seeking advice can help: clearly understanding where the priorities of, say, the firm and the clients lie, so you can deliver the best value. Asking such questions also shows an intellectual maturity and sensitivity to practice needs.”

Professor Croucher said this goes hand-in-hand with the final step – encouragement.

“Encouragement starts with a greeting. I start every day with walking around and greeting everyone in my office … But greetings can happen in lots of ways. It’s about knowing people, valuing them. I also eat my lunch in the tearoom, not hidden away in my office,” she said.

“While encouragement is respectful, there are times when you have to deliver bad news. I consider that the character of a leader is demonstrated in the way they convey bad news to a person who has ‘failed’ or missed out on something.

“Good leaders take personal responsibility for conveying the message and turning it into a message of encouragement.”

The Leadership Luncheon Series, hosted by the Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW, was held on 4 August 2016 at the Newcastle Club.

The event aimed to inspire and educate female legal professionals, with Professor Croucher selected to be the honourable speaker.

This event comes as Lawyers Weekly prepares to host its fifth annual Women in Law Awards.

The Women in Law Awards recognises the achievements of women who have challenged, influenced or changed the practice of law in Australia.

The event will kick off on 27 October 2016. To secure your spot, click here.

Common sense the key differentiator of successful lawyers
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