When the average person thinks about the attributes of a lawyer, ‘confidence’ is one of the first terms that comes to mind.
They know their subject matter inside out. They have the gift of the gab. And they can be boldly assertive. However, despite outward appearances, many lawyers are not resilient.
In this article, we explore why many legal professionals lack this crucial skill – and what they need to build it.
Altman Weil profiled thousands of lawyers over 20 years and found the average lawyer scored in the lower 30th percentile in terms of resilience. But what exactly does low resilience mean?
As a starting point, low resilience is characterised by thin-skinned tendencies and a resistance to feedback. Altman Weil describes it as a ‘self-protective quality’.
High resilience on the other hand is the ability to bounce back after receiving criticism or rejection.
And at a deeper level, resilience can be viewed as the capacity for stress-related growth. It’s our ability to develop coping skills when faced with adversity.
You may be asking yourself, “Is it so bad to be a little thin-skinned?”
Actually, yes. And more than what you might think.
As we all know, working as a lawyer is tough, with poor mental health, burnout and attrition being common symptoms of the high-pressure legal industry.
Given that resilience is all about maintaining wellbeing and managing stress positively, it’s clear this skill is vital to being a successful – and happy – lawyer.
So why do lawyers fall down at this crucial hurdle?
Is low resilience an innate trait that lawyers have in common? Or does it stem from a fatal flaw in how they are trained?
On the one hand, the problem may be due to the type of people who are drawn to the legal profession. Indeed, studies show that they tend to present with several common personality traits – including perfectionism, prudence and a pessimistic mindset.
However, it’s not clear if these traits are inherent, or acquired throughout a lawyer’s career.
For example, throughout your Bachelor of Laws, you were taught to foster a pessimistic mindset. This is not ‘the glass is half empty’ type of pessimism. But rather, a clear and consistent message to see issues as ‘permanent, pervasive and uncontrollable’ – which is important when it comes to law.
In a legal setting, this mentality helps you assess and rectify problems.
Regardless of whether the chicken or egg came first, there is one glaring gap in a lawyer’s education that accounts for a lack of resilience: they receive no training in stress management and vicarious trauma.
This is a key part of training in disciplines such as medicine and nursing. Yet, despite lawyers facing similar rates of workplace stress, it’s absent in the curriculum.
If this training were a part of a legal practitioners training from the outset, they would be able to better implement effective strategies to manage their resilience and, therefore, their mental health.
So regardless of whether our industry’s lack of resilience is due to nature or nurture, there is a remedy to the situation. Which is mental health training and better awareness and support systems within our industry.
While you and your colleagues might not have acquired your resilience training at law school, it’s not too late to build the skills needed to foster better workplace mental health.
Throughout the year, The College of Law is offering Mental Health First Aid Training courses to help legal professionals better support co-workers experiencing a mental health problem.
You will learn how to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health problems in colleagues and employees. As well as how to respond and offer appropriate support.
Video: Mental Health and Wellbeing in the New Legal Workplace (Centre for Legal Innovation)