Studies indicate that the legal profession is filled with chronically stressed and highly anxious personality types (it is kind of an expected thing with lawyers). The revolution of these heightened levels of anxiety and stress amongst lawyers resulted in increased attention to mindfulness in law firms, law schools, and bar associations.
Maintaining a healthy mindset and is critical for any attorney’s success. Today, I want to write specifically about the ways “lawyer anxiety” deter legal recruiter and law firms from hiring otherwise great attorneys, and how you reframe some of these patterns in your professional life.
Lawyer Anxiety Source #1: Taking Care of Everyone Else’s Problems and Not Your Own
Do you still pay attention to the announcements they make on an airplane when you are about to take off?
Ever noticed that they tell you that when there is a drop in air pressure and the emergency masks drop, to secure your own oxygen mask on first before you help others?
Why? Because you’re not going to be much use if you are not breathing.
Many attorneys are natural “martyrs,” and willing to sacrifice their own time, needs, health and well being for the good of their partners, clients, or projects. Taking care of yourself and being an attorney are NOT in conflict with each other—frankly, your needs must be tended to in order for you to be the best lawyer you can be.
If you are that lawyer, know that while any prospective employer likes a dedicated and committed employee, that the employers also want the best employees. Your results speak for themselves, and you need to demonstrate that you actually have time and energy to give to a matter. This means that you may have to reprioritize some of your commitments, draw and enforce important boundaries, and ensure that you actually have something to give (rather than showing how thinly you are stretched out).
“Martyrs” and thinly-stretched attorneys deter recruiters away, because these attorneys are too close to a breaking point.
Lawyer Anxiety Source #2: Unreasonably Harsh Self-Criticism
A great attorney should always push themselves to grow and to improve their quality of work. The constant drive to improve often results in attorneys feel as if everyone else in their firm has their life and practice together, and that they are the only one struggling. If your attention to detail has turned itself into a source of unreasonably harsh self-criticism, this can deter law firms and legal recruiters from hiring you because you will start to project that you are “not enough.”
This can come in multiple forms. For example, during an employment review, your supervisor will tell you that your work is fine, and that there isn’t really anything else to cover—and all you can think is that you did not receive enough positive feedback. Or you might be telling yourself that even though you hate your job, you are not making enough money and you have to hit a certain mark.
If you are your self-criticism has led to a constant chase of something that is enough, then your personal fulfillment and satisfaction is completely dependent on something outside of your control. This starts to show itself during the job hunting process, and experienced recruiters will hone in on that issue. Legal employers may misinterpret it as you not genuinely being interested in their team or work, and that you are merely chasing a figure or a title.
Lawyer Anxiety Source #3: Lawyer Hoarding
Americans have a lot of stuff—2.3 billion square feet of storage unit space, in fact. For some reason, lawyers tend to be socially accepted hoarders (if you don’t like the word hoarder, let’s call it… “over collecting”).
When it comes to attorney-hoarders, this doesn’t usually come in the form of a person who obsessively collects a random item. It usually comes from the attorney not being willing to let go of something from the past, and losing a chance to pursue something exciting in the future. This is the fifth year attorney who won’t let you replace an undergraduate accomplishment on their resume with a more recent accomplishment—or the partner that cannot choose the top three deals to use as a talking point. This is also the candidate who seems to have hoarded every possible accolade and achievement, without regard to its relevance, and dropping a reference to each one during the job search process.
Often, this has the reverse intended affect of the hoarding-attorney. The attorney hopes that the collection of accomplishments speak to the capability and potential that they possess. Instead, this usually rubs employers the wrong way, and leaves them with the impression that the attorney is arrogant or insecure.
If you are that lawyer, there is a solution that can help you gradually reach a sweet spot (where you can share the accomplishments that best reflect your candidacy, without coming off as a braggart). Narrow the scope of what it is you are looking for, and edit what you have to share accordingly. If your aim is to lateral into a larger firm, take some time to meet the different attorneys in that firm, and get a sense of what it is that they are looking for. Go through your body of accomplishments, and “edit” it by selecting the top three most relevant ones to share. Rather than give into the feeling that you must dump your entire collection on them to prove your worth, look at it like this: you do not need to “prove” yourself beyond the top three choices; look forward, and invite them along on the journey. They have to bring you on board for you to help take them to the next level.