Top 5 Actions Resilient Lawyers Take to Remain Resilient in a Changing Legal Landscape

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Summary: As the landscape of law changes the most important characteristic an attorney can have is the ability to be resilient.
Top 5 Actions Resilient Lawyers Take to Remain Resilient in a Changing Legal Landscape
  • While some feel the legal industry evolves with the slowness of a freighter in deep waters others claim law and the practice of law, even in its slowness, nonetheless still evolves.
  • Given this, lawyers have to change in order to be resilient to these changes.
  • So how does an attorney make become resilient in today’s world of law?
  • Keep reading to find out the top 5 actions attorneys can take to achieve that resiliency.
What former attorney now writer Paula Davis-Laack outlines in a recent Forbes.com article is advice all attorneys should heed.

The article presents the world of law as changing, evolving even to a point that no attorney past or present completely knows or understands.

Of course law is not the only industry in which change occurs in such a way that the industry itself may no longer be recognizable.

From the medical industry to engineering, and onward to other industries like teaching; within any industry where there is change, those in that industry have to change as well or risk being left behind.

And when one is left behind, well quite frankly, they are no longer relevant.

To that end, as the Forbes article outlines, there are 5 top actions attorneys can take to make themselves resilient to the changes in the legal industry.
The Potential and Power of Resilience

As the Forbes article relays, an ability to adapt to the changing environment of law is foundational to an attorney’s resilience. In other words, adaptation is needed to deal in what is and will be in the legal industry.

However, as resilience is a person’s capacity for stress-related growth, lawyer personality research reveals that lawyers as a population tend to be quite low in the trait.

In fact, many lawyers score in the 30th percentile or lower. In that these lawyers reveal rather thin skin tendencies that result in…
  • An inability to not take criticism personally.
  • A propensity to be overly defensive.
  • A penchant to resist feedback.

According to author Davis-Laack, she believes that the main building blocks that build resilience are:
  • Thinking flexibly about challenges and framing adversity in an accurate way.
  • Developing high-quality connections with others.
  • Frustration by lawyers’ exceedingly high levels of skepticism (measured in the 90th percentile).
  • Exceedingly low levels of sociability (measured in the 12th percentile).

To this point of resiliency, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being suggests that one of the important things law firms and organizations can do to help build lawyer well-being is to offer courses, information and workshops based on the Army’s own resilience training.

Citing this, and going beyond the recognition of what resiliency has to offer for attorneys in a changing legal climate, there are an additional 5 key actions that resilient lawyers do differently from other lawyers.
  1. Resilient lawyers see resilience as a core leadership skill.

Law firm talent management consultant Terri Mottershead believes that, “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.”

Additionally, Harvard law professors Scott Westfahl and David Wilkins identify resilience and cognitive reframing as important leadership and professional skills lawyers should develop.

Army research shows officers with higher levels of resilience were promoted ahead of schedule, were assigned tougher tasks, and achieved the rank of a one star general faster than their low-resilience counterparts.
  1. They build the type of confidence that grows resilience.

Successfully navigating challenges gives attorneys a template to manage future adversity, while for an attorney to not experience any hardship in their work can actually lessen or undermine resilience.

The self-belief in one’s ability to overcome adversity and achieve their goals is called self-efficacy. It is the type of confidence that grows resilience.
  • Self-efficacy capitalizes on small wins.
  • Observational experiences of people bouncing back from adversity offers a certain “I can do this too” approach to resilience.
  • Self-efficacy often demands frequent feedback about what’s going right.
  1. They cross-examine their own thinking.

Law school and the early years of one’s law practice teach lawyers how to “think like a lawyer.”

Professionally, lawyers are responsible for doing all of the due diligence in a matter by analyzing what has and could go wrong in a situation and steering their clients away from negative impact.

All of this according to Davis-Laack is important when lawyers are engaged in the practice of law.

However, when lawyers look at issues pessimistically for 12 to 14 hours a day, that pessimism becomes more difficult to usurp.

Ultimately, being a pessimist undercuts leadership capabilities, and can negatively affect interactions with clients, staff and family as well as that lawyer’s life in general.

On the other hand, Davis-Laack states resilient lawyers cross-examine and reframe their unproductive thinking in the following ways:
  • They seek to quickly understand where they have a measure of control, influence or leverage in the situation instead of wasting their time and energy on things they can’t control.
  • They look for measurable and specific evidence to support the accuracy of their thoughts.
  • They look for the middle ground to diffuse black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking styles.
  • They think about what they would tell a friend in the same situation.
  1. Resilient lawyers cultivate relational energy.

Lawyers who are immune to change also cultivate high-quality relationships by paying attention to their “relational energy.”

Relational energy is how much one’s interaction with others motivate, invigorate and energize, rather than drain or exhaust.

Research shows that a person’s relational energy network can predict job performance and job engagement better than networks based on influence or information.
  1. Resilient lawyers understand the difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence.

To psychologists perfectionism is “A multidimensional personality trait characterized by striving for flawlessness and setting exceedingly high standards of performance accompanied by overly critical evaluations of one’s behavior.”

In other words, perfectionistic strivings are aspects of perfectionism that are self-oriented, internally focused and are associated with having high standards.

However, perfectionism is outwardly-oriented and associated with worries about making mistakes, fear of negative social evaluation and enables a person’s thought of, “What will other people think?”

As perfectionism associates with a host of negative outcomes, perfectionistic concerns are an even larger problem.

Perfectionistic concerns drive higher levels of anxiety, burnout, less healthy coping strategies and a rigid all or nothing mindset.

Perfectionistic is also linked to:
  • Defensiveness
  • Finding fault with yourself and others
  • Inflexibility
  • An excessive need for control
  • An inability to trust others with their work

Law is not stagnant. As times it too has to change. Simply put, the way law was practiced 20 years ago probably will not fly today.

So as the profession continues on its path of change and as lawyers continue to try out new products, services and ways of doing business, failure will occur as a natural by-product of innovation. In short, failure becomes a positive as it too can be an agent of resilience.

In order to be an impactful lawyer and an effective leader in this era of continuous change, resilience must be part of your game plan as you advance in the field of law.

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