After many years in the legal profession, I’ve noticed that my colleagues tend to share certain traits that make them good lawyers. Most are very smart. Most have a strong work ethic. And they fight hard for their clients. Which leads to an interesting question –why do so many smart lawyers struggle when it comes to getting new business?
The answer lies with a different set of traits lawyers have that don’t serve them well, especially when it comes to asking for the business. People who are attracted to the legal profession don’t tend to be very optimistic. Most have a low tolerance for risk, and they don’t rebound quickly from failure or adversity.
In other words, they lack resilience, one of the most important factors in building a solid book of business.
Why We Need Resilience
Resilience is the ability to overcome difficult conditions and bounce back quickly from failure. Some people develop resilience while growing up. Others have to develop it as adults.
My parents had high expectations for me, so I began developing resiliency at a young age. They taught me that just because something is hard doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. They also drilled into my head that if I didn’t fail from time to time it meant I wasn’t trying. As a result I became less fearful of failure. When life knocked me down, I learned how to get back on my feet and keep going. By the time I entered the law profession, I realized my failures taught me more than my successes.
Why is resilience so important in the legal profession?
Because without it we lawyers aren’t going to ask for the business, which means we aren’t going to grow our businesses. When we ask someone to give us their business, we’re going to get rejected much of the time, and rejection doesn’t feel good. In fact, it feels like failure. So we don’t ask, even when opportunity presents itself.
Resilience allows you to hang in there and ask for the business despite the fear of rejection and failure. Remember, that failure is part of success. You can get rejected three times in a row, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get rejected the 4th or 5th time. Remember, if you’re not failing some of the time, you’re not doing it right.
Overcoming Fear of Failure
This important process starts with changing the way you look at failure. First, accept that it is inevitable. Even when you do your best, you will sometimes fail. Instead of being hard on yourself, remember that failure is actually an opportunity to learn.
Get comfortable with rejection. Early in my career, rejections hurt my feelings. I took each one very personally. When I began to see them as an inevitable part of the process, I could turn rejections from a negative into a positive. Now when someone cancels a meeting, I tell myself the angels have given me an extra hour in my day!
Become less judgmental of yourself. Understand you will make mistakes and forgive yourself for making them. Practice quieting that critical voice, and don’t listen to the negative thoughts in your mind.
Most of all, remember that most failures are temporary. I once lost a case so big it made the front page of the paper. I thought I would lose the client and my reputation. Instead, it turned out to be a positive experience. The client sent me a text saying, “Sh*t happens. I still believe in you.” We went to appeal and did well. No one else made a big deal out of it, and after a few days of feeling bad it went away.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Perhaps the most important part of developing resiliency is moving from a fixed to a growth mindset. This is a whole topic in itself, so I will discuss this in my next blog.
In the meantime I highly recommend reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. This life-changing book explains how moving from fixed to a growth mindset can make you a better lawyer and a better person.
Keep in mind that even the most successful lawyers are never entirely free from fear, but they still ask for the business. Resilience is the skill that allows us to do what we need to do, even when it feels like taking a risk.
P.S. – I also teach a workshop to help attorneys practice the growth mindset principles on a daily basis. I would love to see you there.
Janice P. Brown
Founder and President Beyond Law / Principal Meyers Nave