How to handle a crisis of confidence

Self-doubt can creep up on anyone, but particularly when you're starting out. Whether you're newly qualified or embarking on a new role, Simon Ashcroft's three tips will help any legal professional battling their self-confidence in the workplace.
A young business man looks in a mirror and adjusts his tie

We all hope for and look forward to the day where we are admitted to the role of solicitors, although when that day arrives many of us might feel somewhat lost after the excitement and relief subsides.

For me, I’d describe it as being released into an open, far-reaching field with thick fog in each direction.

Sure, the scenery is nice, but where do you go?

A huge weight has lifted from your shoulders, only to be replaced with the heavy responsibility and removed safety net that comes with being qualified.

To the point of qualification, all you have known is the next step, the next goal. Immediately after qualification, you can feel almost lost.

I made use of annual leave during the week of my admittance to the role, if only to savour and enjoy it.

I left the week before as a trainee solicitor, hungry and excited for what lay ahead, yet, when I returned on the Monday as a qualified solicitor, I had hardly slept the night before.

This wasn’t through overwhelming joy, but a newfound pressure I hadn’t yet experienced. “Sink or swim” might come to mind.

I was lucky enough to have a team around me during this stage who were incredibly supportive and whom I will never be able to thank enough.

Even though I was feeling an immense sense of pride and accomplishment from getting across the line, it was also made very clear to me the responsibility and burden attached to each uttered or written word I would now give.

No matter the preparation, as a junior lawyer you might start to compare yourself with other, more experienced lawyers around you.

You might look at how confident they are, how they act, speak, write or interact, and then compare your own actions, whether intentionally or not.

In turn, your confidence might diminish.

As to work, you might feel more nervous or cautious in things you had previously felt confident and comfortable doing, and you might find that simple tasks might take longer at first as you adapt to your own style and find your feet.

You might even feel silly asking for help or raising questions, or by giving your opinion when discussing matters with more experienced lawyers.

Frustration, a confidence crisis and, perhaps, imposter syndrome might set in and take a hold.

In such circumstances, remember this, first: every experienced lawyer has been a junior lawyer, and has most probably experienced similar issues. It takes time, but look at where they are now.

So, how do you ensure your wellbeing as a junior lawyer, especially in a confidence crisis?

1. Observe to learn, not to compare

Just because you are qualified, it doesn’t mean that the training and development ends.

It may seem simple, but being comfortable with and accepting the idea that your career is one big learning curve with constant change is a good start.

This thought process will help you to focus your observations of more experienced lawyers from that of a comparison to a learning technique.

You will soon see that even the most experienced lawyers continue to ask questions and to discuss matters between themselves at every point in their career, and so should you.

You will also come to realise that lawyers, once qualified, aren’t just all-knowing machines, but human beings who have learnt to manage their responsibilities and pressures, and to apply their skills to each given task in their own way.

It is, after all, acceptable not to know everything.

2. Communicate, be humble

It is natural to ask for help and support when needed, and in fact it would serve you well to continue to do so.

Your career is a continuous learning curve, so it follows that there will come a time (or many) where you aren’t sure, or it’s something completely new.

Training and development aren’t reserved solely for your academic years, and no one expects you to have all of the answers.

If you need time to research or to check with a colleague, do so. Trying to work through everything alone is not advised in any case, even if you are determined to overcome an obstacle.

Asking for help will not only get you there quicker and build confidence, it will also ensure that you remain confident and comfortable in your role.

In fact, in terms of building confidence, I have found that working things through with other experienced lawyers often helps me as the opinion is usually the same or similar.

Keeping everything to yourself and struggling through alone is more likely than not to cause confidence issues, negative comparisons (as above) or worse.

3. Relax and release

It is well known that the role of any lawyer is stressful, so finding ways to relax and to channel that stress early on in your career is, to me, essential.

I write my thoughts, which in turn allows me to write these articles, which themselves act as an outlet but also as an attempt to help others.

Listening to certain music from my younger years helps me to relax and to calm myself before a working day, or even to unwind after a busy week.

People find new or existing hobbies, interests or skills to master as a way to channel their energy.

The same can apply to work itself; I often go for lengthy walks on a lunch hour, during which I listen to music and consider work matters.

I’m away from my desk in the fresh air, and it helps me to clear my mind and to work through matters without distraction.

The important point here is to find something, or many things, that works for you.

Remember, though, that these are not to be seen as distractions, but ways in which to release and to relax.

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