“Putting your best brain forward”: Lay a solid foundation for routine decisions
This is the one of seven strategies that you can follow to help you apply the emerging lessons of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology to the day-to-day work of your practice, as explained in the article Putting your best brain forward: How neuroscience awareness and evolutionary psychology can help lawyers avoid claims and offer better client service
Not every task in a lawyer’s workday requires laser-focus and time to reflect. Many areas of practice follow well-established patterns of activity.
When we undertake routine work, our brains rely heavily on System 1 decision-making. This is not necessarily inappropriate, unless we zone out so completely that we overlook exceptional details or, for example, red flags that would otherwise alert us to fraud.
Routine work is less memorable to us than more complicated work (because we have completed the same actions many times), and so it can be difficult, at a later date, to remember specific answers to questions we asked the client – or whether we asked a particular question at all.
To ensure that routine tasks are completed correctly and that our System 2 override function will kick in when we encounter an exception, it can be helpful to develop and adopt routinized, ritualistic work habits that reflect established best practices.
A simple example is an email handling routine. It might go something like this:
- Read email at specific times each day (for example, at 9:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 4:00 pm);
- If the response required will take 5 minutes or fewer, respond immediately, and then file the email in the appropriate client folder;
- If the response will require more than 5 minutes, BEFORE closing the message, make a note on a task list or a to-do list about the actions required and the date/time by which they must be completed;
- File the email in the appropriate client folder.
Tasks at the end of a week, reviewing the status of client files at regular intervals, or even gathering relevant documents and equipment before leaving the office for a meeting.
Checklists are an excellent tool for helping lawyers adhere to best practices, and for ensuring uniformity in how matters are handled by all firm staff. Whether completed electronically, as part of transaction-management software, or simply printed out on paper and attached to a file, a checklist can ensure that steps are not missed, and that any staff member who reviews a file can determine what work remains to be done. Lawyers can develop their own checklists or adapt those prepared by others – we have a number of area-of-law specific checklists available at practicepro.ca for download.
Craig E. Jones, Q.C., a professor in the Faculty of Law at Thomson Rivers University explains that consistent routines improve the quality of tasks we de-prioritize, and they can be helpful if our work is later challenged. If an aspect of a lawyer’s work is challenged and there is no specific memory of what was done, the lawyer can at least testify to the usual practice. Being able to produce a checklist that is used to structure a routine is even better evidence of what has been completed.
Here is the list of all seven strategies to “put your best brain forward”:
- Think slowly, and let your clients do the same
- Lay a solid foundation for routine decisions
- Consult with others
- Check your biases
- Nourish your brain
- Reflect on your clients’ psychology
- Strive for self-awareness