The opportunities and successes for lawyers who find ‘Freedom From Fear’

The opportunities and successes for lawyers who find ‘Freedom From Fear’

13 December 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Vera Culkoff

Lawyers, and especially new lawyers, who allow their fears to get in the way of taking incredible opportunities or realising their potential are guaranteeing failure – but understanding what drives those fears and how to overcome them can instead open up new doors and new successes, a barrister and author tells Protégé.

Just five years into her career in law, barrister Vera Culkoff said she was faced with two options: pass on a brief to a senior counsel (and now Court of Appeal judge) to lead a special leave application in the High Court or become one of a number of lawyers who have ever presented a matter before the professions’ best legal minds.

Much like many lawyers, and especially those new to the profession, a fear of “what if” almost convinced Ms Culkoff to take the first, and easy, option. By not seeing themselves as part of a major career choice like this, Ms Culkoff said lawyers “are closing the door on every opportunity that knocks” and allowing their career to falter.

“The fears that were conjured up for me were, ‘are you mad? You’re a five-year solicitor. You’re not even a barrister. What makes you think you can do this? You have not even seen a special leave application run before. What makes you think you can do this? What if? What if? What if? It kept going on and on,” she said.

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“There are people who have been in the legal profession as solicitors and barristers for 20, 30, 40, 50 years and they’ve never had a matter in the High Court, let alone an opportunity to run it themselves. That was really key for me. It’s like, ‘this may never surface again. Why would I let this opportunity slip by?’ And then I bolstered myself up by saying, ‘you know the legal principles … you can make it happen’.”

Ms Culkoff’s professional and personal journey to overcome fears that put a stop to incredible opportunities is outlined in her new book, Freedom From Fear. In a new episode of The Protégé Podcast, Ms Culkoff explained how she and other lawyers could find that freedom for themselves and “take the leap” into accomplishments. The book and the episode are packed with tips for new lawyers hoping to do the same.

Ms Culkoff also shared plenty of anecdotes from her career that puts in perspective how many lawyers let their fears prevent them from realising their potential. This included a barrister Ms Culkoff bumped into on an elevator who was shaking from nerves. During their short ride together, she learnt that he was about to walk into a simple directions hearing. Surprised, she assumed he must have been very new at the bar, until he told her that he had been practising as a barrister for five years.

“That sort of stress and anxiety [comes out] because of all the negative mind chatter that you have for something that really, by that stage, should be a no-brainer,” Ms Culkoff said. “You’re bringing awareness to all of that when you’re [thinking]… ‘what are the other side going to say? What if I can’t respond? What if I’ve made an error? What if the registrar says something and I feel belittled or embarrassed?’

“Those are all illusory fears. None of that might happen. But if you keep programming your brain, that is what’s going to happen. Eventually, your thoughts create your reality, and that’s the takeaway from this book. If you continually think that you are going to be terrible in putting forward your submissions, you will be because that’s what you’re attracting, and that’s what you’re telling your mind.”

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Essentially, the book encourages readers to “have the courage to take the leap”. If not, failure is guaranteed, but “if you do try and keep trying, you will just keep learning new ways of approaching something. If it’s your passion, you will get there.”

Listen to the entire episode for more here.

The opportunities and successes for lawyers who find ‘Freedom From Fear’
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