Three ways to improve your attention to detail today
One of the more common pieces of feedback junior lawyers receive is that they are lacking attention to detail. If this is you, my prior post here gives some tips for improving your attention to detail when working on a specific assignment. Today, I’m going to give you three more tips you can start implementing immediately to improve your attention to detail across the board.
1. Identify and remove distractions
Common advice these days is to set aside specific times each day to review your email and to ignore your inbox the rest of the day. Most lawyers laugh at that advice; in a service profession, we need to be responsive to our clients. In some legal work environments, like big firms, responsiveness is a key responsibility of your job, especially as a junior lawyer. You’re essentially being paid to be on call.
That said, when you have an important task that requires special focus, it’s OK to block out email, calls, and other distractions while you get it done—for a reasonable period of time. For example, if you have been asked to proofread a brief that’s getting filed in court later today, you want to make sure your attention to detail is on point. Block out the time you need to review it, shut down your email, silence your phone, and ignore everything else until that’s done. If your important project will take multiple hours, you can still block out distractions for big chunks of that time. Just schedule regular breaks using an alarm so you can take a quick walk, grab a snack, or address urgent emails.
2. Write everything down
Sometimes people think they are lacking attention to detail when they just don’t have a great memory for details. Solve this by writing things down. As a junior lawyer, I never went anywhere without a pen and notepad. You never know when a partner is going to rattle off some assignment while you’re chatting about something else entirely. You may think you’ve got a great memory, and you probably do, but little details and nuances tend to slip away when we rely on just our brains. Save yourself the hassle and write everything down.
3. Slow down
Sometimes lacking attention to detail manifests in failing to get your work done completely or forgetting to do something you were asked. Often this is because you’re rushing through a task.
I see this frequently: a supervisor sends a junior attorney an email asking three questions and the junior fires back a quick response addressing two and forgetting about the third.
One way to address this is to make sure you thoroughly review everything you get. If your boss forwards an email chain with a request for you at the top of the chain, you should still read the entire email chain. It may provide key context for your assignment or answer a question you have while working. If you reach out to your supervisor to ask a question you could have answered by reading more closely, your reputation for diligence and attention to detail will take a little hit.
If you tend to fire off email responses with errors—like forgetting an attachment or answering two questions when you were asked three, try writing your responsive email in a word document, not an open email reply. Then wait to copy/paste your response into your draft email after double checking to make sure you fully completed your task. Or, you could draft your response in an open reply email but only after erasing the “to” line. Wait to type the recipient after you have double checked that you addressed everything that was asked of you. Either method will help you slow down and remember to double check your work.
Need some more help improving your attention to detail? Survive & Thrive, my online course for new lawyers, is now open for enrollment. It’s full of practical tips to help you succeed in professional life, from navigating office politics to hitting your deadlines and taking time off for vacation. Learn more and sign up for a free preview here.