Fearful Lawyers

Lawyers Have Fears Too

I recently read an article in the American Bar Association Journal, titled: “32 of Lawyers’ Most Common Fears.” That number alone gave me pause. Did you know that the top fears include:

  1. Feeling their offices or cases are out of control
  2. Looking foolish when asking questions
  3. Seeming “too nice”
  4. Being blamed
  5. Speaking in public
  6. Lacking skill or confidence
  7. Intimidation by superiors and judges
  8. Suffering pain, humiliation, and shame if defeated
  9. Being attacked or outsmarted by their counterparts

Isn’t this similar to things even non-lawyers fear? For lawyers, these fears may be worse -because of their role. Since people often hire lawyers to do battle for them, it’s important for lawyers to have appropriate skills and armor. And confidence is part of that armor. Confidence grows with experience; a top law school or straight A’s in law school isn’t always enough.

As anyone who watches Law & Order knows, even the best work doesn’t always score a victory. I learned this early on, working for a divorce lawyer representing a father who wanted custody.

Fathers rarely sought custody in those days, but even so – this case was a slam dunk.

Yet the father lost – even though the mother never bothered to retrieve the children after the divorce. A year the lawyer bumped into the judge and told him the kids still lived with their Dad; the wife had never even picked them up. The judge’s response: “She seemed like a nice girl who deserved another chance.” The vagaries of human nature, opinions, and prejudices impact the law.

As a corporate lawyer, I learned that every major legal conclusion we reached had to be run by outside counsel. They double checked all of our conclusions. In all my years, they never disagreed with us. Why this huge cost and effort? if we were wrong, the blame would go to them.

In hindsight, it was a great luxury to have top law firms double-checking our work. In the real world of private practice, the buck stops here. Yet clients are sometimes reticent to share the real facts in their situations or become concerned with looking stupid or being embarrassed in front of a lawyer. Hopefully reading this list of fears, clients will realize they are not alone.