find the latest legal job
Corporate/Commercial Lawyers (2-5 years PAE)
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Specialist commercial law firm · Long-term career progression
View details
Graduate Lawyer / Up to 1.5 yr PAE Lawyer
Category: Personal Injury Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Mentoring Opportunity in Regional QLD · Personal Injury Law
View details
Corporate and Commercial Partner
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Full time · Join a leading Adelaide commercial law firm
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Sydney NSW
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
The devil in the detail

The devil in the detail

Anthony Wright

Many lawyers consider themselves perfectionists but this trait can get in the way of productivity, writes Anthony Wright.

You may have always thought that the saying, ‘the devil is in the detail’ had one meaning. It has two, in fact, and both are particularly relevant for lawyers. Pedantic perfectionism is a trait that makes lawyers effective at their jobs, however, this constant attention to detail can also be debilitating when it prevents efficiently prioritising and progressing tasks.

Avoiding paralysis

Without question, it’s critical that lawyers provide accurate technical advice, i.e. the correct answer. However, perfection every step of the way takes considerable time, and therefore comes at a cost. Whether stemming from a client or manager, lawyers are often be under significant pressure to complete jobs quickly. As a result of rushing their deliverables, errors can occur.

Lawyers can effectively prioritise components of a job. The most successful and efficient lawyers recognise which aspects require the most attention to detail and prioritise them accordingly. In doing so, they’re able to complete tasks effectively and thoroughly, without committing unnecessary errors as a result of stress and external pressures.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

It may sound simple, but the ability to understand which tasks require the most thought and diligence, particularly when under pressure, is something learned with experience.

Many junior lawyers, and also some senior lawyers, become distracted with perfecting punctuation, obsessing over structure and re-reading non-critical emails before hitting send. Meanwhile, they may be neglecting other tasks that would better benefit from this level of detail and scrutiny. Not to mention that the time spent focusing on these less important deliverables comes at a cost to the business, which could be avoided.

A lawyer’s focus on perfection, while crucial to the role of consistently delivering accurate legal advice, can also be paralysing when it is misdirected. Sometimes, the result of tweaking something just a little bit more does not produce enough value to warrant the output. If something is going to take you an hour, or five, to get it exactly the way you want, but no one else is going to notice the difference, then perhaps it’s best just to accept it as is and apply your energies elsewhere.

Differentiating between deliverables

In order to best differentiate between those deliverables that require a high level of attention to detail, and those which may be distracting from the actual job at hand, it’s important to step back and put things in perspective. Ask yourself, will my rewording of this paragraph change the result from a legal perspective? Would my time be better spent working on something else? Could I delegate this simple task and prioritise more complicated work?

While it’s easier said than done, it’s also helpful to stop thinking about what others might think. This isn’t to say you don’t do your best – of course you do – but once you have completed a job to the best of your ability, send it on. Don’t sit staring at it for hours, wondering if you should change a word or heading to improve it ever so slightly.

If changes need to be made, they will be raised. You’ll likely benefit significantly more from getting someone else’s feedback on the work sooner than deliberating over the same tiny detail yourself, all the while spending someone else’s money.

Anthony Wright is the principal of lexvoco, a New Law solution that provides legal talent on call to in-house teams and legal firms.

 Like this story? Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive Lawyers Weekly every day straight to your inbox.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

The devil in the detail
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Scales of Justice
Dec 15 2017
Timing ‘critical’ in unusual contempt of court ruling
A recent case could have interesting implications for contempt of court rulings, according to a Ferr...
Dec 14 2017
International arbitration and business culture
Promoted by Maxwell Chambers. This article discusses the impact of international arbitration on t...
Papua New Guinea flag
Dec 14 2017
World-first mining case launched in PNG
Citizens of Papua New Guinea have launched landmark legal proceedings against the country’s govern...
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...