Asking for Help

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.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Dreaded Projects

There are always those projects that we dread doing. We put them off and go out of our way to avoid doing them or ever thinking about them. I recently  worked with a client who was tap dancing around her own version of a dreaded project and wanted to share the steps we worked through to de-escalate the dread.

Get to the root of the dread.

For many of us, we avoid projects that we know will be challenging or that relate to an area of law that we aren’t comfortable with. We put them off because actually doing the project drives home our discomfort with the subject matter. We don’t like being reminded of what we don’t know and it is uncomfortable to wade through uncharted legal mazes.

If it is simply discomfort with a difficult task, the best way to uproot the problem is to break it into bite-sized pieces and schedule them (i.e., GYST). If it’s a large document that needs to be reviewed or a looming diligence project, break it down into segments and schedule time during your week to attend to each segment of the project. If it’s a research project, schedule separate blocks to time to dig into each relevant area of law. Whatever the breakdown may be, it’s easier to tackle the unknown and discomfort when we can do it in small doses.

Furthermore, this approach will force you to get started right away — there is no room to delay the project until the very last minute as we often want to do with these types of things. Take your time, learn what the project has to offer and take it piece by piece.

No one builds a house in a day. Treat the assignment like a construction project and build it brick by brick, day by day. Stop looking at the massive scale of the project and focus on each piece and what it can teach you.

If there is another reason you are avoiding the project–you don’t like the client or the partner–that’s a whole different issue and is going to require you to do some work on your brain. But that doesn’t mean the above concept will be lost on you. If the root of the problem comes from the parties involved, you can utilize the above approach to dip your toes into that relationship pond little by little and practice managing your mind with each step.

Get factual.

My most recent client had a project that she was dreading. She had made time on her calendar to address the project but kept feeling temped to move it. She explained that it was a massive project with lots of interconnected documents and disclosures. She had made significant headway on the project but was avoiding taking the final steps.

When you find yourself hesitating to jump into a project like this, it is likely because your brain has created some drama around the project. In this case, my client believed that the project was “massive.” So, we spent some time unpacking what she meant by massive. How much more time is needed for the project? What are the exact steps you will need to take to get through this segment of the project? Is there a way that you can bring in additional support?

While the project itself may or may not have actually been “massive,” my client was believing that it was. That sent her mind down a dramatic spiral and set her up for avoidance. In reality, the segment of the project waiting for her on her calendar that day would require only one hour and would allow her to lean on her paralegal for additional support. We realized that most of the work for that part of the project was already done; she simply needed to get her head back into the project, do some issue spotting, and utilize her team. When we set aside the drama and looked at the exact next steps, the project was no longer something to be dreaded, it was much simpler than she was allowing her self to believe.

When we allow our brains to tell us that a project is “massive…horrible…never-ending…pointless,” we set ourselves up for failure. We are going to struggle finding motivation to tackle projects when we believe that we are in for some sort of legal gauntlet. We have to recognize the drama that we have created and sift through it.

How much time is needed for the project?

Can you break it into smaller chunks?

Is it appropriate to bring in additional support?

Have you decided to believe that you are the only one that can do it all? Is that true?

By doing it “all” are you making your greatest contribution or is some of the work better suited for others?

What are the EXACT steps that you will need to execute for each chunk of the project.

We have to be aware of our brain’s tendency to create drama. In those moments when our brain is telling us that the sky is falling, we have to take a step back and sift through the facts. What we often find, much like my client, is that the drama in our brains is a lot of smoke and mirrors and underneath it all are tasks and challenges that we are more than equipped to handle.

Let go of the drama and start dominating your project list; it’s so much more fun than worrying about your projects.

Sometimes all it takes is an outside perspective to help you see it. Reach out for some free support if you find your days clouded with avoidance and self-doubt; I’d love to show you a better way to practice.

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

The Mistake Spiral

The most common thing I see among associate attorneys is the fear of making mistakes.

As attorneys, we can become so paranoid about making a mistake that we put a tremendous about of pressure on ourselves. Our minds are filled with nonstop nasty chatter:

Don’t make another mistake

You have to get this right

This has to be perfect this time

You can’t miss anything this time

They all think you are an idiot

Maybe you shouldn’t have become a lawyer

You don’t have what it takes

Not only are you frustrated over the last mistake but now all that noise makes it even more difficult to focus and do a good job.

As a partner, I always knew when an associate was spinning in this fear. They were taking longer to do everything. They were agonizing over the smallest details. The result of all their mental berating was that they usually ended up missing the big picture and billing a ton of time in the process. What’s more, those associates rarely reached out for help before they got too deep. It was incredibility frustrating.

When you spin in self-doubt, self-judgment and pressure to do everything perfectly, you are demonstrating to those around you that you have some doubts about your ability to do it right. When you allow one mistake to send you into a tailspin, it makes it difficult for those around you to have confidence that you believe in your abilities; that you can handle feedback or that you can operate under pressure.

What’s more, that self-doubt spiral convinces you that you can’t reach out and ask questions for fear that it will affirm to others that you DON’T know what you are doing. You end up going down rabbit holes and over-analyzing the wrong details. Ultimately, everyone’s time is wasted and the project drags on.

How’s that working out for your work relationships or your confidence?

It is a never-ending death spiral of self-fulfilling prophecies.

What’s so interesting to me is that below the surface of all these thoughts and pressure is the belief that this path was easier for everyone else. That others didn’t struggle as much as you are.

Why are you choosing to believe that your struggles are special?

Why are you allowing your growth and development to be a sign that you are broken?

Consider the possibility that those around you similarly struggled. You don’t know that they didn’t yet you are CHOOSING to believe that is the case.

At this point in your career, I think we can ALL agree that law school doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer. Your legal education was no different than anyone else’s. All attorneys wander the morass and confusion fog for YEARS before it clicks. You are not special in this regard!

The root of all those self-doubts and mistake spirals is the ultimate fear of failure. Below each overworked project and overly analyzed email is the fear of what it means when you make a mistake. And further, what it means if you keep making mistakes:

You can’t hack it.

You weren’t meant to be an attorney.

You made a mistake.

You shouldn’t be here.

That sneaky little worry is bubbling below the surface of all of those self conscious acts. You are afraid that those mistakes, when taken in total, are an indication that you can’t do this. From there, you build up these crazy expectations of perfection and try to think clearly and rationally from a place of frenzied panic and tremendous pressure.

It’s no wonder you keep making mistakes! How the hell are you supposed to do a good job when all you are thinking about is how you aren’t doing a good job? It’s madness!

Perfectionism is for scared people.

Repeat that phrase. Live it. Breathe it. Believe it.

When you try to mold yourself into some perfect “out-of-the-box” ready to perform, legal wizard you are setting yourself up for failure.

Law school does not prepare you to practice law. Welcome to the first phase of your life where there are no clear guidelines, metrics are fuzzy, and you have to just start trusting that you are doing it right.

Stop beating yourself up for signing up for the “on site” education that is the practice of law. That is how it works. Allow yourself to experience the process of learning on the job just like every associate attorney on the planet.

One small mistake does not mean that you are not cut out to be a lawyer. Do not let that mistake stoke the fires of fear and propel you into a frenzy.

You are a human. You will mess up.

Welcome to the party.

You want to do a good job and you want to improve and that is commendable. But first, you must do a good job for yourself. Honor the process of on-the-job development. Recognize that you don’t know it all and THAT IS OKAY. No one does.

Second, ditch your ridiculous expectations for yourself and get to work learning how to trust yourself and your judgment despite some bumps in the road.

Besides, what’s the alternative?

Where is all this worrying and fear getting you? What does it hurt to loosen up a bit and just keep rolling with the punches and using each mistake as a learning opportunity? An opportunity to honor yourself, have your own back, and learn.

The only thing you are learning when you continually run the cycle of negative self-talk is how to treat yourself terribly.

There isn’t room for much more and there certainly isn’t room left for growth. Recognize where your current patterns are leading you and decide if that is what you want. The choice is yours.

I help my clients get more confidence, roll with the punches, and have some compassion for themselves. Sound like something your practice is missing? Get some free support now and see what we can do together.

Photo by Axel Vandenhirtz from Pexels

Your Legal Career: Having Your Own Back

When trying to make a big decision, so many of my clients get stuck in the quagmire of indulgent emotions.

Indulgent emotions are those emotions that seem really important. They feel like we should pay attention to them. They suck us into their black hole and keep us from moving forward.

They are indulgent because we linger and stay with those emotions for far too long; we allow those emotions to take over and before we know it, we have been out of the game for weeks. We’ve been “busy” worrying.

Worry, overwhelm, boredom, confusion, and indecision are all indulgent emotions — dream killers.

I had a client who was feeling “stuck” because she couldn’t decide what kind of malpractice insurance she wanted to buy for her new firm. Naturally, she was arguing all the options, seeming to wait until absolute clarity would sweep in and bless her decision.

Decision lightning!

(It doesn’t exist!)

Failing to make decisions keeps us stuck. It allows us to spin in this world where there is only one right answer and we need to make sure we figure it out.

If we don’t get it right a whole parade of horribles will march through our homes and destroy everything; all will be lost.

What if you just made a decision and had your own back?

One decision is not going to make or break your legal career. We have to ditch the drama we build up around these decisions and stop making them so monumental.

If we don’t like our decision later on, we can regroup, make a different decision and grow from the experience. Is that such a big deal?

You won’t lose all your clients if you have to rebrand in three years.

The sky won’t fall if you decide maybe you don’t want to be at that firm.

There are no perfect choices.

At some point you have to recognize that indulging in worry and indecision is keeping you stuck–if you want to move forward, you simply have to make a decision.

What if you just decided not to believe that there was only one right answer?

Maybe all the roads lead to the same place?

Isn’t that a better place to be mentally than imagining you there are two roads–one leads to sudden death and one leads to rivers of gold?! That is what you are doing when you indulge in worry, fear, doubt, indecision. You are believing that one option is perfect and one option will destroy you. The pressure you are putting on that one small decision! How terrible that must feel.

Skip the drama around the decision. Make a choice and move forward. That’s the first step.

The second step is having your own damn back.

If you decide to change your mind in the future, commit to having your own back.

This means that if your choice doesn’t pan out the way you wanted it to, you aren’t going to indulge in GUILT (another indulgent emotion). You aren’t going to wade through your past….shoulda, coulda, woulda-ing yourself to death.

Have your own back. Be a good partner to yourself.

You have no idea how those other options would have panned out. Don’t use this an opportunity to soothsay. Don’t pretend that you “knew” this wasn’t going to work out and start berating yourself.

Part of the reason we avoid making decisions is because of how terrible we are to ourselves when a decision doesn’t work out how we imagined.

We beat ourselves up, we judge our past actions, we rewrite history to make ourselves feel even worse.

If you can commit to making a decision and having your own back no matter how it plays out, what is there to be afraid of?

Don’t allow indulgent emotions to side-track your dreams and keep you stuck. Be a good partner to yourself. Honor your ability to make a decision and be kind to yourself as you make the journey.

Need help? Free support is available here.