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Confidence Crisis

Successfully navigating the legal profession takes a great deal of confidence.  There are partners and clients to impress, clients to find (and keep), trials to prepare for, and deals to close.  During my years as a big firm and in-house commercial real estate attorney, I had more than one crisis of confidence.  I also noticed my equally talented female peers having the same such crises.  You know what it sounds like:  “I’m sorry to bug you Mr. Partner, but I’d like to talk to you about…;” or “I know this might sound crazy, but here is what I think;” or “I can’t make that argument until I’ve researched every relevant piece of jurisprudence in existence.” 

Women often worry about saying the wrong thing, being caught off guard, or being harshly criticized or unfairly judged.  Who doesn’t?  The trick is to convey utter confidence to the outside world even if you’re unsure or uneasy on the inside. 

Here are 5 tricks:

  • Stop qualifying your statements with “I’m sorry,” “I can’t,” or any other similar phrase.  These phrases detract from your message and instantly minimize your authority. 
  • Take a calculated riskIn order to do this, you’ll have to put yourself out there, likely before you are 100% ready to.  Take a potential client out to lunch or say yes to an opportunity that might be slightly out of your comfort zone.  You might feel uncomfortable, but think of it as a valuable opportunity to prove that you can handle adversity and challenge.
  • Remember, it’s rarely about you.  Stress and pressure often make people short-tempered and quick to react.  If you find yourself the target of a partner’s quick temper, know that he or she is probably beyond overwhelmed.  You can’t control bad behavior, but you can control your reaction to it.  Let the comments slide off your back without internalizing them.
  • Channel your inner Stuart Smalley.  Stuart Smalley was a character on Saturday Night Live played by Senator Al Franken.  Whenever Stuart was in need of a quick dose of self-help, he looked into a mirror and said to himself: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”  While you might look a bit strange taking Stuart’s exact approach, remember this:  You got into law school, made it through with flying colors, got a job within the legal profession, and you’re climbing the firm ranks.  You are smart, talented, and capable.  
  • Find a confidence role model.  Is there a woman at your firm who is the epitome of self-confidence?  Take her out to lunch and ask for advice.  You’ll create another connection within the firm, get valuable information you can use immediately, and I guarantee you’ll make her day.

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