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Are you an emotionally resilient lawyer?

03 December 2015

Julian Hall takes a look at the key personal qualities that help us navigate stress and provides some tips on developing emotional resilience.


Practising law has changed hugely in the last 30 years and, with it, the associated pressures. There is now a greater focus on profitability, combined with increased accessibility expected by clients - and a good deal less reverence from those clients. These factors change both the way we work and the way we need to deal with work pressures.

The stressors

At Calm People we have a great deal of contact with lawyers of different levels, whether they are referring clients to us, or us to them, or through helping firms develop more emotionally resilient teams. The more we work with law firms, the more we notice common trends in the causes of stress. Which of the following do you recognise?

  • Targets - turning in six to eight billable hours per day
  • Pressure from clients - wanting their (non-urgent) work done NOW
  • Volume of work - too much piled on and no support from department or firm
  • Interruptions - emails, phone calls, colleagues, partners
  • Feeling undervalued / underappreciated
  • Never being thanked
  • Lack of control over work being doled out
  • Unfair structures - achievements not getting rewarded
  • Rudeness - other lawyers, judges, court staff and so on

Underlying this, particularly in the city law firms, is a cut-throat competitiveness among junior members of the firm that wish to make partner level, which leads to the boundaries of human endurance being pushed further and further - and the longer this continues, the deeper the culture is embedded. As a society and an economy, we are demanding more for less. The need to be emotionally resilient has never been stronger.

Emotional resilience

Against this background, it is no wonder that at Calm People we are encountering more law firms than ever in our work. The model for emotional resilience that we use is closely related to areas defined by Daniel Goleman in his work on emotional intelligence. It states that to be emotionally resilient, we need to focus on awareness, optimism, perseverance, perspective and inner control. Key to this is that these are all areas firmly within our sphere of control.

1. Awareness

This is the ability to know how you are feeling at any moment and why you are feeling that. It includes the ability to differentiate your feelings; for example, too many people display anger to cover up their feelings of fear or sadness.

2. Optimism

Finding the positive aspects in most situations is a skill people can develop. What it does not involve is making blindly optimistic wishes and prayers that set you up for short-term failure. I am a dreamer by nature, but my dreams have steps and plans behind them.

3. Perseverance

A 'never give up' philosophy is essential. Recognising that things won't always go well but not giving up at the first few knock-backs is vital.

4. Perspective

Resilience is born out of attitude and perspective. Seeing obstacles as challenges and being able to take responsibility for your own decisions rather than making yourself a victim are classic examples.

5. Inner control

This is essentially about being able to articulate and deal with feelings in a healthy manner. Self-regulation is not about suppression or denying your feelings, just as it is not about becoming an "over-sharer". It also reflects the acknowledgement that you always have a choice and are responsible for the choices you make.

Your relationship with stress and how you deal with it, combined with your self-esteem and how you take responsibility for your relationship with stress and with yourself, are vital components for surviving and thriving in the 21st century.

The warrior

I think of emotional resilience as part of the makeup of a warrior. The skills and education that we acquire through experience and through our employers' training schemes such as influencing skills, listening skills, as well as the higher level qualifications we hold, all build and strengthen the shield that each of us carries into battle on behalf of our employer and our clients. We can continue to build and strengthen that shield with further training, but if we do not take care of the being that holds the shield, then one day they may find themselves slowing down or unable to continue.

I could have started this article with a definition of emotional resilience. I prefer to end on it. For me emotional resilience is this: "My ability to deal with everything that life throws at me and still be capable of joy."

Full article first published by the Family Section. Read the next instalment.

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Tags: emotional resilience | stress | wellbeing

About the author

Julian Hall is the founding director of stress, conflict and anger management specialists Calm People.
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