The Resilient Lawyer: 6 Easy Strategies to Bounce Back & Perform Better

My column last month focused on defining resilience and identifying its components.  This month, the focus is on the “how;” that is, how can law students and lawyers, people with busy, complicated lives, build their capacity to steer through adversity, handle stress, and perform better.  Here are six pathways:

Find satisfaction with your work.  People spend over a third of their waking life at work (more than that for lawyers), but levels of work satisfaction vary widely from person to person.  Amy Wrzesniewski’s research shows that those who consider their work to be a job are generally interested only in the material benefits from their work and do not seek or receive any other type of reward from it; those who consider their work to be a career have a deeper personal investment in their work and generally seek to advance not only monetarily but also within the occupational structure; and those who consider their work to be a calling usually find that their work is inseparable from their life.  Those with a calling work not for financial gain or for career advancement, but for the fulfillment that the work brings.    Wrzesniewski explains that those who consider their work to be a calling generally have a stronger and more rewarding relationship to their work.  To determine whether your work is a job, career, or a calling, visit to take Wrzesniewski’s short assessment entitled “Work-Life Questionnaire.”

Analyze what pushes your buttons.  I negotiated a business contract last month and right before the phone call, I felt a tremendous sense of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.  That surprised me since I negotiated hundreds of contracts during my seven years as a commercial real estate attorney.  Curious about why I was having this reaction, I used the following technique developed based on the work of Drs. Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, to help me identify why my thought process was so off track:  first, describe factually what pushed your buttons (who, what, where, when); second, write down your reaction (anger, embarrassment, sadness, etc.); third, write down exactly what you were thinking in-the-moment during the challenge; and fourth, ask yourself whether your thought process helped or hurt your ability to steer through the challenge.  People tend to focus only on the reaction part of the equation, but those reactions are actually driven by how you think.  Use this four-step process when you’re curious about a reaction you had, don’t like a reaction you had, or simply want to find a new way of looking at a problem. 

Find fun.   Kids have zest in abundance, but as we age, societal and organizational pressures tell us that having fun and being serious don’t go together.  In my work with the military, I was surprised to find that many soldiers use humor as a coping skill to get through tough situations.  They use humor to lighten the mood and break tension.  One of the partners I used to work with had the amazing ability to tell the perfect joke at just the right time during tense closings or negotiations.  In addition, fun helps you socialize, provides an outlet for learning and creativity, and has great health benefits.  The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor ( posts numerous resources, including research, about the benefits of fun.

Help others savor good news.  The legal profession can be a pessimistic place at times and as a lawyer, you will likely be both the recipient and bearer of bad news.  Interestingly, Shelly Gable’s research shows that how you respond to a person’s good news actually does more for building a relationship than how you respond to bad news.  This applies across the board from personal relationships to business interactions.  Responding in an active and constructive way; that is, helping the bearer of good news savor it, is the only response that builds good relationships.  Killing the conversation by offering a terse response or hijacking the conversation by making it about you are quick ways to weaken a relationship. 

Build self-efficacy.  Remember the children’s book, The Little Engine that Could?  The phrase the engine kept uttering was, “I think I can, I think I can.”  That is self-efficacy – your ability to believe you can accomplish what you want to accomplish.  Confidence is one of the top issues I discuss with my coaching clients – young and old, male and female.  Given the pressure lawyers face on a daily basis, it’s easy to remember and dwell on only the times when you’ve failed or done less than your best.  To build your self-efficacy, keep a journal of “wins.”  Write down all of the times in your life and career when you have exceeded expectations, accomplished tough goals, and were in control.  Review this list often and keep adding to it.  Encourage your kids to start building their list now.  In addition, find a confidence role model.  Is there someone at your firm or company that just exudes confidence?  Take him or her to lunch and ask for tips for building your own confidence bank. 

Identify your strengths.  Research by Christopher Peterson and his team shows that using your strengths in new ways every day for a week increases happiness and decreases depression.  In addition, Harter et al. found that those who get to do what they do best at work on a daily basis have increased loyalty, retention, and productivity (outcomes all law firms value).  Examples of good strengths measurements can be found at under the “Other Resources” column.

While there are many additional skills that will help you build resilience, you can start using these tools today.  For more resilience exercises, including worksheets you can complete, please contact me at  In addition, please go to and look under the “Additional Resources – Resilience” column to locate ways to measure your resilience.


 Gable, S.L., Gonzaga, G.C., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(5), 904-917.

 Harter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L., & Hayes, T.L. (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis, Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 268-279.

 Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2002). The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life’s hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.

 Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C.  (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.

 Wrzesniewski, A. (2003). Finding positive meaning in work.  In K.S. Cameron, J.E. Dutton, & R.E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive Organizational Scholarship (pp. 296-308). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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