Criticism is part of a lawyer’s job. No matter how hard we try to produce a perfect product, we will always find a reason for it to fall short of “perfect.” Lawyers are trained to be critical, and thus, tend to be very critical with themselves and other lawyers. Whether you are hearing constructive feedback from a colleague, being reprimanded by a judge, or just being ripped apart by opposing counsel (or in some cases…a partner at your firm), the ability to handle criticism, regardless of its delivery, will determine how far a you can make it your career.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you find yourself unsure about how to handle criticism:
When criticism is constructive, take the opportunity to thank the critic for sharing a particular insight or perspective. If you’ve ever been asked to provide feedback, you know that delivering criticism takes courage, respect, care, and time. Consider it as an opportunity to build a relationship. Be professional and courteous—let your subsequent work speak for itself. Showing that you can listen to, handle, and improve from criticism demonstrates that you are coachable and could be a valuable asset as you grow in your career.
Develop thick(er) skin.
In a professional setting, it is important to not be overly emotional (don’t breakdown or react emotionally in front of your supervisor, a judge, or your client). Even if the criticisms are nasty and unwarranted, it is important to keep your head up. Don’t respond too defensively. The concern isn’t that you will be called a crybaby—rather, you may be perceived negatively which may impact future assignments and opportunities. Rather than collapsing, motivate yourself to process the critique and be empowered to do better (prove them wrong!).
If your work setting is consistently causing you too much unnecessary stress, then it may be time to consider a job search.
Don’t create a villain.
Your critic is not your enemy. Everything a critic says and does is supposed to be for your (or your team’s) betterment. Be able to distinguish reasonable scrutiny of your work from scrutiny of you as a person. Understand that their analysis is necessarily about you, but about the results. Process critiques towards improving the work product, increasing efficiency, and improving productivity. Listen to what you’re being told and try to see it from their point of view.
You’re allowed to disagree.
Your compliance with criticism depends on your judgment. There are going to be times when you completely disagree with the feedback. That’s totally fine. Depending on the deadline and the critic, you should be able to voice that concern in a professional matter. Keep in mind that if there is a pressing deadline, you should probably wait until it passes before you voice your thoughts.
You can disagree and ask to clarify, but do not attack the feedback or criticism and put your critic on the defensive. Instead, express your understanding, explaining why you did things a certain way, and ask for clarification if necessary. This demonstrates that you value your critic’s opinion while also demonstrating that you are on their team and share their goal. You might even sway your critic to see things differently.
Everyone wants to be able to knock it out of the park each and every time. The truth is that each of us will face a setback. Remember that your ability to take criticism and turn a setback into a victory increases your chances at advancing your career. If after all of these steps you still find yourself stuck, it may be time to consider working with a legal recruiter.