By Sarah Valdes • November 23, 2019•Writers in Residence
Aligned with the recent trend to reboot everything from after school specials to oversized sweatshirts, I can’t help but think of the best career advice I ever received as a “reboot.” It is the same advice we give our little ones, but forget to follow ourselves. Just be yourself.
As a law student, I perceived my legal education as something that was meant to change me. I was going to “think like a lawyer.” I was going to become a part of the “legal community.” I was even going to speak “legalese.” But I failed to take into account that I was still….me.
More seasoned attorneys reminded me that the best thing I could do to grow was to be the best lawyer I could be. Many young lawyers fall into the trap of mimicking their colleagues, supervisors, and opposing counsel. For many, it is as if their training is tossed aside because they start to imitate the courtroom etiquette, work habits, and communication styles they see around them – good and bad.
Shortly after I started a new job, a partner let me know that he expected me to learn from each of the seasoned attorneys I was being assigned to work with, but that I was equally expected to take what served me and leave what didn’t. I was to create the best version of myself. Although I had heard the advice before, this time was different. It showed me that although I was surrounded by very talented attorneys, I was bringing something valuable to the table: myself. Once I began to see my interactions with other lawyers as opportunities to learn what skills I could adopt, and not what skills I should adopt, my professional satisfaction greatly improved.
So, what does being yourself look like in the legal profession? For me, it was things like embracing the tone of my own voice and recognizing the power I held. Earlier in my career I was in a role that put me in the courtroom almost daily. I heard lawyers whose voice seemed to seamlessly fill the courtroom demanding attention. Others appeared to speak with such flawless elocution that I thought I was in an etiquette class. How do you compete with that? You don’t. You learn what you bring to the table. For me, it was learning that my soft tone and young sounding voice made me very relatable to witnesses who often let their guard down while I was cross-examining them. This often elicited testimony that was favorable to my client.
Every single time we allow ourselves to be our full authentic self, we create the space for us to bring our unique talents to the table. I guarantee the results are nothing short of spectacular.