Are you an emotionally resilient lawyer?

Julian Hall looks at the key personal qualities that help us navigate stress and provides tips on how to develop 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 how 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 others

Underlying this – particularly in city law firms – is a cut-throat competitiveness among junior members of the firm who wish to make partner level.

This can lead 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. And the need to be emotionally resilient has never been stronger.

Emotional resilience

Against this background, it’s 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.

The key thing to remember is that these traits 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 way. 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.

Another way of starting to work on that inner control is to consider what your relationship with stress is through what we call the five pillars of stress.

Ask yourself which of these draws the most stress into your life:

  • your need for the approval of others
  • you not making yourself a priority
  • you putting pressure on yourself
  • you not letting go of control
  • you not trusting others or yourself

Once you have highlighted one, just ask yourself what one small thing you could start to do which would improve that area from your perspective? Then, do it.

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 who holds the shield, then one day we may find ourselves slowing down or being unable to continue.

I could have started this article with a definition of emotional resilience. However, 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”.

Find out more

Working as a law professional can be very stressful, with overwhelming workloads and emotionally challenging cases. There is help if you need it.

Access support on managing your workload, learning to manage stress and improving your wellbeing

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