The legal profession is competitive. Law students compete for top grades and become attorneys who compete for their clients. A competitive field means that in his or her career, a lawyer is bound to face setbacks and disappointments.
Once out of the gates of law school, law students face the bar exam. Once that hurdle is overcome, clients count on lawyers to deliver certain desired results—the outcome of which are never completely in their own hands. You can pour hours into researching and strategizing every angle to produce the best work product. The stars can align and put the facts and the law on your side—but a judge might still rule against you.
It’s simply impossible to never fail. The law is a lifelong practice; something pursued, but not ever perfectly mastered. As with anything, diligent application and practice leads to improvement; and it is this constant intellectual challenge that satisfies the curiosity and calling of many lawyers.
The job hunting process, specifically, is something lawyers never enjoy pursuing (avoiding the job-search burnout can be challenging). A prolonged job hunt is particularly stressful to lawyers on many levels, often triggering a life’s worth of setbacks that can pull the lawyer into a world of angst and insecurity. How are you supposed to put your best foot forward and not wreak of desperation when your work or career is the problem?
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.
Overcoming setbacks, becoming your own inner counsel, and fighting for yourself is not just important to landing the job you want—these are critical to leading a fulfilling life as a lawyer.
After Doing Your Best, Let It Go
Once you’ve put forth your absolute best, you no longer have control over the decision. There is a point where you have done everything you can, and once you have reached that point, learn to let go of the rest. Do not keep sitting in the space of obsessively “wanting” it. Tip: practice a very simple exercise, and whenever you are trailing into that space of obsessively “wanting” it, start listing things that you are grateful for. You can start simple (I am grateful for my health, for my education), and if you play this game for a bit, you will find yourself to be at peace with it being out of your hands (I am grateful to have received the interview, for my past experiences, for working with a great team even when the job wasn’t that great…).
Drop Unproductive, Unhelpful Thoughts
Lawyers are critical, and when it comes to the job hunt, not receiving the outcome they hoped for can result in excessive unhealthy self criticism. We’re our own worst critics. Notice these types of thoughts and recognize that they are just thoughts—not facts. One door closing on you does not make you unemployable.
If you were comforting a dear friend who was experiencing this setback, chances are you would not go down the laundry list of how they could never do anything right and tell them they are unemployable (and if you would…that’s a separate problem). You would offer words of encouragement and comfort. You would listen. Give yourself the same compassion and care as you would a dear friend.
If you have ever practiced meditation, you learn to observe your thoughts and recognize that you are not your thoughts. You also begin to recognize that your thoughts aren’t always true. Maybe there is a different interpretation. Perhaps you’re being overly critical. You practice getting better at gaining some perspective and distance from your thoughts.
Did you see what I did there? The practice of law is similar. What you recognize is not always true. There are always other interpretations. Distance can aid perspective. Apply smart, diligent lawyering to how you care for yourself during the job hunt.
Evaluate your personal habits when you were at your best against your habits during the job hunting process. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, exercise—and that you are eating right. Often times, a gap in a routine is where we fall into bad habits, and we take a healthy mind and body for granted.
Your mind and body is the vehicle and engine that you need to bounce back. Continue the positive habits that you have always kept, and fill in any empty slots with the goal to discover and incorporate new positive habits. Go for a long walk. Connect with a friend. Cook a healthy, delicious meal for yourself. Needless to say, avoid any destructive behavior. Practice self-care.
If things are not working out in your favor, do some self evaluation and reflection. Collect feedback—and then actually do something with that information. Take that extra step to implement constructive feedback to improve and move forward in order to avoid making the same mistakes while expecting different results. You will be better off for it.
Mastery builds confidence, and if you are experiencing a particularly longer hunt, spend some time mastering something outside of the law. This can be as simple as signing up for a class such as painting, yoga, martial arts, etc. You can also focus on professional development by conducting new research and publishing, or working on public speaking and presentation skills. Bring these tools into your life and diversify your tool box to increase your resiliency.
Remember: a lawyer’s career is a lifelong journey, not a linear experience. We are so trained to fear rejection that we tend to forget that it is a normal part of life and often leads to something worth celebrating. The job hunting process can feel as though you are the only one experiencing setbacks and everyone else is doing just fine. This is not so. Reach out to your support system and mentors. Find the right recruiter who is committed to you who will be your partner through this journey.