New Zealand Law Society - How to engage in reflective practice

How to engage in reflective practice

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Engaging with professional learning is essential for maintaining our competence for the benefit of the client, ourselves and the firm. One way of doing this is through reflective practice.

The main difference between private, personal reflection and formalised “reflective practice” as a tool for learning is providing evidence of the reflection and activating it within the bounds of your professional context.

At the heart of the CPD scheme is a lawyer’s continuing professional development plan and record (CPDPR). The CPDPR is where each practitioner takes personal responsibility for documenting their learning and how it relates to their initial professional development goals.

However, it is not just a record of what was learnt but why this learning was worth engaging in and, most importantly, what will be done with it.

Over the last few months I’ve engaged with many lawyers, especially in supporting the development of reflective practice and how to get the best out of reflection for the purposes of documenting the CPDPR and for growing professionally.

While many lawyers are well on their way to applying a deep understanding of the benefits of reflective practice for their own learning, a greater number could benefit from developing this professional tool further.

What is reflective practice?

Simply put, reflective practice is about thinking about the why and how of learning activities and the action to take as a result. We can view the reflective practitioner as having developed this into four discrete stages. The ability to:

  • assimilate new learning;
  • relate it to what they already know;
  • adapt it for their own purposes; and
  • transform thought into action.1

Engaging in reflective practice for your CPDPR requires setting aside time. This, of course, is easier said than done. However, we invest time to better our clients’ prospects and we should do the same for ourselves. Reflective practice is valuable as it is suggested that, over time, those who use this technique tend to develop greater levels of creativity, critical thinking skills and metacognitive ability – that is, their ability to think about their own thinking – and become more valuable employees and practitioners as a result.

The first stage is to examine what you learnt and think about how this fits within the context of your professional life. This examination can be at many levels: your specialist technical knowledge, your role within your workplace, or against a backdrop of your career to date and you as a professional.

Ask what was learnt
Finding out what was valuable and, what wasn’t, is the important next step. When you complete your learning reflections don’t just notate what you gained from the activity or what was positive, but also consider reflecting on what you didn’t know, what gaps became apparent in your practice and, the most important question to pose, against all of your reflections, is why.

Ask why was this important
The third phase is now thinking your way through what this learning could be useful for. Could the learning be: developed further, utilised in your own practice, added it to existing structures, or did it highlight firm activities that are no longer viewed as best practice?

Question how you will I use this

Ask who will benefit
Now that you’ve thought about all of this, it’s time to take action. Again, this can be realised in many different ways. But this stage is a future focused one.

Think about your next steps

Types of Reflective Statements

As discussed, being reflective in a professional context is as much about looking forward as it is about looking back.

Equally, reflection about your learning can also be viewed more broadly than just what the learning means to what you will do. You can also be reflective on how the new learning makes you feel, how it impacts on others and what it might mean for future planning for the profession. As we work in a people-oriented environment, these kind of reflections are very important.

Below are four different approaches to forming reflective statements:


  • “I realise that I was not always recognising this within my firm …”
  • “I now appreciate that I didn’t really understand how to apply ...”

Inward and outward looking

  • “This course confirmed that I don’t feel comfortable with …”
  • “My team would benefit from looking at this because …”
  • “I noticed at the courses that others on my table employed a different technique that was more efficient …”

Future focused

  • “Next time I come across a case like this I will …”
  • “In light of this learning I’m going to invest in more training because …”
  • “Strategically we’ll need to place our energy into …”
  • “I will now work to develop a more robust …”

In many senses reflective practice almost becomes like a mini goal setting exercise where you decide what you will now do with this knowledge. A reflective practitioner is continually looking for getting the best value out of professional learning opportunities.

Leading reflectively

As a leader, developing reflective practice techniques can be of benefit to your firm. Many appraisal management systems and business self-review models take a reflective approach to goal assessment. In fact reflective techniques can be a powerful tool to help with a range of business decisions, including:

  • appraisal discussions;
  • resource allocation to support learning;
  • identifying and promoting the unique position of the firm; and 
  • ensuring that their practice stays competitive.

In understanding how to engage in reflective practice we create an opportunity to continually improve our competence through learning. This benefits not only our own self-esteem as a professional but the profession itself and, importantly, the experience of the client. Why would we not think about that?

For more on how to engage in reflective practice, see the resources at or feel free to contact Ken Trass at

1. 'Developing Reflective Practice in Legal Education', Karen Hinett. 

My audit, your voice

As many of you are well aware, during October I conducted an audit of practitioners CPDPRs (CPD plan and record). This audit was educationally focused and my feedback to you all was designed to provoke and provide questions in regards to your CPDPR.

Your feedback and comments helped shape this article on reflective practice. Here is a selection of your comments, both positive and negative about the audit process and the feedback you received.

  • “… I was not expecting such a personal response … I very much appreciated it!”
  • “I’m very grateful for your feedback … I must admit … I was too eager to get the form submitted online and I overlooked how important reflection on learning and the articulation of the same are in the CPDPR process … It’s been a great learning experience …”
  • “… as I was preparing the material to send to you I had almost the same thoughts as you (my reflections, in all honesty, were to ‘tick the compliance box’). There is no doubt that I would get more from my learning if I spent more time considering what I got out of it and how it helped – this year I will do that better. Again – thanks for taking the time to comment. It is constructive …”
  • “I’m about to review my staff’s CPDPR plans, and your questions will be useful in that context …”
  • “… I will take your suggestions on board for improving the reflective component going forward. I’ve had difficulty completing that part before … your email was both timely and helpful.”
  • “Surely it is a better use of your time to audit new additions to the profession, rather than the likes of me – I mean, really?”
  • “Thanks for your pleasant email … the implementation of a compulsory CPD system for lawyers has been a success, not only in terms of giving lawyers the chance to keep updated with the ever-changing law, but it has encouraged me to learn and develop my knowledge in areas that maybe outside my scope of expertise.”
  • “Having worked in the UK … (where the CPD requirements are significant) ... I am glad to see it become part of the NZ landscape too.”
  • “… I will do what I have always done – read. I see no point in the CPD programme and find the scheme ridiculous and insulting.”
  • “I really appreciate your feedback on the reflective statements ... I like the idea of combining the retrospective and future focused reflection, which could result in an interesting study of how one’s thinking changes and what kind of information or presentation influences an individual.”
  • “… we used your comments on reflective practice for a staff training session … it led to some significant team discussions – who thought an audit could yield such positivity! Thank you.”

Many thanks to the professionals who agreed to share their feedback on this year’s audit process.

In moving forward, as we look towards the end of the next CPD Year (March 2016), please put some time aside to consider why your learning has been important and how this has developed you as a professional.

As always, if you have any questions about CPD, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Ken Trass is the New Zealand Law Society’s Professional Development Manager. 

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