Many folks lately are pushing back on that label. Whatever you call it, all of us at one time or another, feel we’re not good enough. Some lawyers hide it better than others; some are debilitated by it; some have it in areas they can compartmentalize. I’m no expert, but several of my 12 dedicated readers have asked me to write about it and I’ve recently been asked to speak on the topic, so here we go.
First and foremost, get this: Every junior lawyer has imposter syndrome.
If they don’t, they are a danger to their clients. Why? Because law is a complex and challenging profession and no one can know everything they need to know with just a few months or years of experience. I’ve come across lawyers–some with many years of experience–who think they know everything they need to know and they are indeed walking malpractice claims waiting to happen.
Lawyering is hard. Doing well (or not) in school has only the loosest of correlations to being a great lawyer. And there are so many skills involved: research, legal analysis, fact gathering, factual analysis, persuasive writing, technical writing, oral advocacy, advising, persuading, and informative verbal presentation, just to name a handful.
So now, get this: Even lawyers of extraordinary accomplishment with many years of experience have imposter syndrome, including me.
Based on candid conversations with GCs, accomplished trial lawyers, senior law firm partners, and subject matter experts, I can tell you this is common. And why not? No one is expert in everything they may be called upon to do and the more accomplished you are, the more you are called upon to do new and ever more difficult challenges. Thus, diagnosis is the easy part.
I’ve seen a lot of materials on overcoming imposter syndrome. To me, the most important one is a bit counterintuitive.
Help your friends. Help people who can use your help — simply because you can. Occasionally, a young lawyer will tell me that when they are successful, they want to mentor others. Wait a minute. You made it through college with good grades, got into law school, graduated, passed a bar and found a job. Do you have any idea how many people have tried that path and fallen off somewhere along the way? And lots of data illustrates how exponentially harder it is if you are a woman, LBTQ, or a lawyer of color. You ARE successful. And even as a first or second year lawyer, you have so many lessons you can pass along to others struggling to navigate that same path.
Mentoring and serving others builds confidence and reinforces the skills you’ve learned along the way. It reminds you how much you’ve done and learned and overcome.
There are many articles and podcasts and videos out there on overcoming imposter syndrome. For me, the thing that has been most effective is serving others. Helping my friends. Helping people starting their own firms or trying to build a book of business or preparing for their first deposition or trial — simply because I can.
After all, when we lift one another, we all rise.