By nature (or creation) most attorneys are notoriously terrible at asking for help. We are conditioned to do it all on our own and figure it out and so far, it has worked out well for ourselves. In the practice of law, however, this reluctance can not only be detriment to ourselves but also our clients.
In my opinion, this starts with the study of law. Law school and the pursuit of lawyer-dom is a solitary pursuit. We spend hours and hours alone, reading casebooks, working on our outlines, and reviewing class notes. It’s not that the solitude of legal studies is unique from other kinds of scholarly pursuits but it is unique in that, becoming an attorney means becoming a business of one. People hire an individual attorney based upon their knowledge and skill set.
There is some expectation that we, standing on our own, will have the answers.
Pair that implicit expectation with the study of law and those long hours of solitude and drop in the competitive gauntlet of the legal job market. Everyone is competing for positions at the top firms or clerkships; you have to lock down a job before your last year of law school even begins lest your career be over before you even graduate.
This solitary, competitive realm breeds attorneys who are silo-d. We get really good at the grind and problem solving. But this environment also breeds attorneys who are not very good at asking for help.
There are going to miscommunications and disconnects between you and the rest of your team. Partners will omit essential information and facts when giving you assignments. People will make false assumptions about your background or skills. When we resist asking for help or seeking additional clarification, we are ignoring all of those truths.
When we don’t ask for help we are choosing instead to believe that we have been provided all of the facts, communication was clear, and no one made any assumptions.
We ascribe absolute perfection to others involved in the project and assign absolute imperfection to ourselves. The wildest part about these scenarios is that we KNOW, logically, that the partner or assigning attorney is far from perfect. They may have a habit of omitting pertinent information or forgetting to provide key documents or they may simply have a reputation for providing terrible direction. But in the heat of the moment, we are so busy focusing on ourselves and our failures in the situation that we overlook the roles of others involved.
We provide no room for compassion toward ourselves. It’s so much easy to be hard on ourselves!
When you fail to ask for help it is usually because there is some nasty thing you tell yourself in that moment. You make asking for help mean something negative about you. The next time you find yourself spinning your wheels in confusion, ask yourself what you are making it mean if you went to ask for help or clarification? Do you believe that it means you aren’t good enough? You should not be an attorney? The partner is going to judge you and think you’re an idiot?
You are none of those things. You already are an attorney. If you weren’t able to do the job, you wouldn’t have made it through the LSAT, 3 years of law school, the bar exam, and landing your first job. Don’t let something as simple as a miscommunication or misunderstanding erode all of that value.
Approach the situation with curiosity–why am I struggling? Why am I confused? What am I missing? And get to work sussing out that information.
That may require you to seek some additional support and follow-up with the assigning attorney. Remind yourself that the other attorney is not perfect either and it is possible they omitted something or miscommunicated something. In fact, that is more likely true than the possibility that you are an idiot who shouldn’t be practicing law.
Open yourself up to alternative possibilities and stop making it all about you!
Your team and your clients are counting on you to put aside your ego and get the job done.
Take advantage of an opportunity to take this work deeper and apply it directly to your practice. Sign up for a free one-on-one coaching session with me. I would love to help you reconnect with your value and get your career back on track.