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Coping mechanisms for young lawyers

Look on the bright side, be aware of overly and persistent skeptical behaviors and develop a mentor/mentee relationship with a seasoned lawyer. I wish I had done these things in earnest from my first day practicing law. Without being too new age-y, self-awareness and seeking out assistance from others will help you manage your law practice. These actions are also much more productive than other ways we choose to handle the constraints of being a lawyer.

Apropos of this topic, a short trip into my iTunes account reveals an (excellent) album titled “Cope” from Manchester Orchestra. The title track has a line in it that particularly resonates with me: “I hope if there is one thing I let go, it is the way that we cope.”

As young lawyer, you will have to deal (cope) with many new, complex and difficult situations. This is true whether you are a transactional attorney figuring out how best to protect a client’s interests in a stock purchase agreement or a litigator opposing a motion for summary judgment on a short deadline.

How young lawyers perform under the professional pressure and the means by which we “blow off steam” can have a significant impact on our career prospects, health and mental well-being. However, I suspect that many young lawyers are not particularly good at calmly navigating the difficulties of the early years. Part of this has to do with the personality traits that make for a good lawyer.

Attorneys, according to Dr. Larry Richard, “tend to look at the world through a “glass half empty” lens — they focus on problems rather than on what’s working well; they tend toward the suspicious; they assume the worst, and rarely give others the ‘benefit of the doubt.’” This mindset does not sound like a great recipe for happiness.

But wait, it gets worse. (See what I did there?) Dr. Richard also notes that lawyers have a greater need for autonomy than the average individual – “i.e., we like being in control.”

Being a good and dutiful lawyer myself, I fell into the skeptical, autonomous trap during the first few years of practice. I worked hard to produce good results for our clients but it was hard for me to shake the “glass half-empty” worldview. I also tried to go it alone without seeking too much assistance from others.

If I met you during my first couple of years practicing, you may know my main coping mechanism. I followed a strict diet of eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it and I always made sure to skip exercising. It was not a great plan.

But I let go of the way that I coped. After my kids were born, something clicked. My glass is now half full. I hit the gym. I joined and supported organizations that are making the lives of children in our city better. I sought out mentors who I could trust. This was a much better plan and one that I recommend.

One comment


    I hate to depress anyone but the same is true for old lawyers.