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September 23, 2007

Got Resilience?

Please see a piece by Texas lawyer Mark Bennett I've been brooding about ever since I saw it: "Resiliency". But don't obsess about it too much. Ironically, resilience--the ability to recover and spring back from adversity, a shock or a set-back in short order--is not a lawyer trait. Indeed, these days there's lots of commentary out there which in the aggregate goes something like this: lawyers don't market, work, argue, negotiate, or even do trial work as well as they could because they are "relational", nice, academic at heart, a bit passive aggressive, naturally not "war-like" and--even when we are competitive and direct--we suffer, brood and worry too long about setbacks and defeats. And we are beginning to hate what we do all day long because, oddly, (1) neither fighting (2) nor "going with the flow" are in our natures. It's true. We lawyers are, in the main, natural-born

weenies and squirrels. We are great people. But we sweat small stuff--part of our job, of course--and we over-react. We have amazingly poor defenses to each day's hard knocks and battles.

Well, why? My take: the profession attracts type-A eldest-child perfectionists who can become disoriented and even ashamed by not winning on every point. We get hurt easily. Too many of us suffer guilt or shame in the smallest defeat. We even kick ourselves about being that way. We feel like impostors. And that--trying to be something we can't always easily be--makes things worse. We start to hate our jobs and our lives. If our clients knew how thin-skinned and tortured some of us really are, they'd just take pity and fire us.

Solution? Somehow--and I don't care how--get over yourself, free yourself from all that bondage of self, and accept that some defeat is inherent in everything you do, and may be even helpful to achieve good results. I am NOT talking here about being a good loser or lowering standards. It's about Sweating Just Big Stuff. Stepping back. Getting perspective. Nothing brilliant here. However, without even doing an empirical study, it's obvious to me that lawyer "over-sensitivity" is a huge problem in our lawyer worlds and workplaces. Our reactions to the sum of small bad stuff prevents us from doing the big stuff or from doing it well. This hurts us as people. But way more importantly, it hurts your client: the main event. Remember that as a lawyer you are not royalty--sorry, but you never were that special. Clients are not "the equipment" for a patrician game. You are there to serve.

If you can't get a plan for this and change yourself--or can only do it the cost of violating who you really are--think about another career path. And for godssake if you're a trial lawyer, part of your damn job is to be resilient. So get some of it really, really fast, and buck up there, mate--or just teach, sell women's shoes or get that masters in taxation at NYU you sometimes dream about.

Posted by JD Hull at September 23, 2007 08:20 PM

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