As a lawyer, you are faced with many circumstances that require you to be resilient--the ability to bounce back to “normal” after a setback. For example, a resilient attorney accepts criticism and learns from it; a lawyer who has low resilience takes criticism personally and challenges feedback.“ On a percentile scale which ranges from zero to 100%, the average for this trait [resilience] among the public is the 50th percentile; among lawyers, the average is the 30th percentile. Even more telling is the distribution–90% of the lawyers we test score below the 50th percentile!”1
Unfortunately, most of us are not born resilient. The good news is that you can learn this important trait.
How do you know if you are resilient?
You are aware of your thinking.
If you are resilient, you know how to control your thoughts. Imagine this scenario: You spend weeks on a project that takes extra time away from your family and other personal responsibilities, yet your boss still criticizes your work. How do you respond? What are the thoughts that are going through your mind at that moment? You might think, “I’m terrible at my job. I spent extra time on this project, neglecting my family, only to be criticized. I can’t do anything right.” You might immediately get defensive and start an argument with your supervisor.
A resilient person knows how to control negative thoughts and react in a professional manner. You might disagree with some of the critiques, but you know how to share your opinion without getting upset or confrontational. You realize that it is beneficial for other people to review your work so that they can offer alternative opinions or correct some of the technicalities. You learn from it. You are resilient.
If you are one of the many lawyers who has trouble controlling your thoughts, try the ABC Technique of Irrational Beliefs developed by Dr. Albert Ellis to help you determine why your thought process is off-track.
Let’s break down this example of a negative reaction to criticism: “I received a less-than-perfect annual review; I am a terrible lawyer.”
Activating event: an event that leads to some type of high emotional response or negative dysfunctional thinking. In this example, “the less-than-perfect review” is the activating event.
Belief: The negative thoughts that occurred to you. “I am a terrible lawyer.”
Consequence: The negative feelings and dysfunctional behaviors that ensued. “I doubt myself as a lawyer, and now I am stressed.”
Breaking down your thoughts this way helps you see that your thinking is irrational. In the example, the lawyer thinks he is “terrible” only because he did not receive a perfect score on his annual review. This leads him to self-doubt, which then leads to stress. When analyzing the thoughts, you begin to realize that 1) no one is perfect; 2) one “less-than-perfect” review does not make you a terrible lawyer (think about all of your accomplishments as an attorney) and 3) getting a perfect score on a review is not a normal occurrence for any employee. If you received a perfect score, you would not be able to improve, and we all have room for improvement!
You surround yourself with positive people.
You know the saying “Misery loves company.” People take comfort in knowing that others are unhappy, too. You can often see this in offices where employees huddle together and talk about who is treated the worst, who is paid the least, how unfair the practices are, etc. Resilient people do their best to surround themselves with positive people. If you are resilient, you choose to spend time with friends, acquaintances and colleagues who lift you up and help you become a better person.
You know that you are not perfect.
As you review your tasks for the day, you realize that you scheduled two different meetings at the same time. You might think: “How could I be so careless?” Resilient people know that they will make mistakes. A resilient person will problem-solve to determine how to reschedule one of the meetings.
Resilience is a “must-have”
Terri Mottershead, Director of Professional Development with DLA Piper LLP in San Francisco, California, says “In the new normal, it is critical that law firms place [resilience] high on the list of ‘must haves’ in their leadership job descriptions and support its development in emerging leaders.”2 As the legal world continues to change and evolve, so should you. Being resilient is a good trait to have if you want to be an effective lawyer leader.
If you find yourself stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, seek help. The Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program helps lawyers, judges and law students manage life's stresses.
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1 “Resilience and Lawyer Negativity” by Dr. Larry Richard, https://www.lawyerbrainblog.com/2012/09/resilience-and-lawyer-negativity/
2 “Five Mindsets That Undercut Your Ability to Think Like a Leader,” by Paula Davis-Laack, Law Practice Today, www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/5-mindsets-undercut-ability-think-leader/