Five strategies for solo lawyers that boost professional confidence and show self-doubt to the door.
We put on a brave face in front of clients, adversaries and judges. But many lawyers, especially those new to solo practice, are riddled with self-doubt.
From the outside, you look confident, capable and in charge. On the inside, you might be falling apart. It’s a common mountain that everyone has to scale. Some lawyers even say they feel like a fraud or impostor, at least in the early career stages.
You could call it Impostor Syndrome. Everyone around you might appear to have their act together. They have more experience and never wrestle with doubt. And even when you enjoy a little success, it’s only short lived before you wonder whether it was nothing but luck. Think you’re alone? Hardly.
No one is born with confidence in their abilities; that comes with practice, self-training and learning how to manage your nervousness. Here are five strategies that can help you cultivate confidence for yourself.
#1: Let Go of the Past
Self-doubt usually stems from memories. If you hold onto times when you didn’t perform the way that you’d hoped or when someone else pointed out a flaw, you’re living in the past. Instead, live in the present.
Try to avoid feeding those memories and work on building new and better ones. Wherever your focus lies, that’s what will grow and thrive.
#2: Make a List of Accomplishments
You already have a mental list of reasons – probably a mile long – why you feel like an impostor. Now it’s time to make a new list. This time, fill it with everything that you’ve accomplished. Every lawyer finished law school, obviously. But don’t discount that as an achievement. The vast majority of people, and most of your clients, can’t say the same.
If you can’t accept your own accomplishments, you might need a little outside help. Trusted friends and peers could probably write the list for you, at least metaphorically. And you might be surprised by what they have to say.
#3: Understand Your Trigger Moments
Just when everything is going great, a wave of self-doubt can crash over you. But those waves rarely appear from out of nowhere. Find out what triggers them and then you can put countermeasures in place.
If you find yourself uncertain about a new client or matter, ask yourself a set of questions that include:
- Will I identify and find the most efficient solutions to address the biggest business risks my client faces in doing the deal at hand?
- How can I clarify and tighten the language in the proposed contract to best protect my client’s business objectives?
- How can I provide value to my client in light of the time and money being spent engaging in this and in future transactions?
Everyone’s triggers are different. Yours might be as simple as a phrase that reminds you of a past disappointment. Once you identify those triggers, you can begin relating them to a completely new feeling. It’s an exercise in psychology. Some people refer to professional counseling to learn to wield those tools effectively.
#4: Help Other Lawyers
It might seem ridiculous to offer help when you lack confidence in yourself. But, your own strengths might surprise you. There’s always someone who is at least slightly behind your level of progress and experience.
Offer a helping hand to others who are struggling, and you could see abilities and expertise you didn’t realize you had. Beyond learning more about yourself, helping others is just good karma.
#5: Forget About Perfection
Nobody is perfect. Your mom probably told you that – and it’s true. Every peer whom you admire has professional and personal insecurities. Psychologists say that, often, the ones who exude extreme confidence struggle most with insecurities.
Perfection isn’t possible. By default, imperfection is normal. Stop waiting to eliminate self-doubt. Learn to accept and deal with it as a normal part of intellectual and professional growth.
Impostor Syndrome can affect anyone, especially a solo lawyer. The bigger problem is that, if you truly believe that you’re not capable, those thoughts might become self-fulfilling prophecies.
The only way to get past a lack of confidence is to work through it. Whether or not you can see it now, every successful lawyer has been in your shoes at some time. They kept moving forward. So should you.
#6: Use Your Adversaries to Your Benefit
Having a mentor can help you on your path to success. This is easier if you are part of a larger firm with experienced associates at your disposal. However, this is different if you choose the path of a solo attorney just out of school. It can be hard to find that person to be your guide. In fact, it may be more than one person that mentors you.
Consider the fact that you can learn by watching and mimicking the behavior of your adversaries and avoiding their negative behaviors. Human beings have a natural tendency to want to learn in order to evolve and thrive, mimicking is a key part. You wouldn’t want to commit the same mistakes as someone else especially if you are able to learn from their experiences. The key when mimicking behaviors is to understand what would work best for you if you were in a similar situation.
#7: Spend Time with Others
The biggest source of strength comes from your family and friends. Look to those people to help you when you are feeling overwhelmed or down on yourself. Sometimes verbalizing how you are feeling with someone is enough for you to realize that you can make it through this difficult task.
This will also help you realize that you are not alone when it comes to having self-doubt. Everyone has obstacles from time to time to achieve their goals. There is no straight line to success. Failures are a learning experience and shouldn’t be the reason for your professional confidence to deteriorate.
Impostor Syndrome affects everyone at any stage in their personal or professional life. No one is born with confidence or is born with a perfect life.
In order to achieve confidence and ultimately success you must have perseverance. Practicing how to handle your reactions when things don’t go your way will help you manage negative feelings of doubt in moments of turmoil.