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How different mindsets can squash lawyers’ potential

These legal coaches have seen a number of different mindsets in lawyers — some of which can be potentially damaging to their vocational and personal success.

user iconLauren Croft 13 June 2023 Big Law
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Lara Wentworth and Katie Gray are two of the co-founders and directors of Coaching Advocates, an executive coaching business for lawyers. Speaking on a recent episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, produced in partnership with Coaching Advocates, the pair delved into the mindset of a lawyer, what goes on in the mind of legal professionals, and how different mindsets may limit lawyers.

Understanding the mindset of a lawyer is important in understanding the broader mental health of legal professionals, according to Ms Gray.

“Mindsets are often not visible to us. We don’t often know that they’re there, that they’re happening, but our mindset actually drives our results. It drives what options and possibilities we see are available to us. It drives our behaviour as to what we do and what we don’t do. And ultimately, it really determines whether we are successful in our endeavours or not. So, while we may not know what our mindset is, it is very much in the driving seat,” she outlined.


“Sometimes, the mindsets that we carry can create stress for us. If we have certain beliefs about something when we are confronted with, our mindset can also be a stressor, in that it can be the thing that can create stress. If we have a mindset that actually we don’t belong in a particular environment, or we feel insecure about our contributions, that can certainly create a lot of stress for us in situations where we are expected to perform.”

Lawyers can also possess a number of different mindsets, according to Ms Wentworth, who was previously a practising lawyer herself.

“From my experience as a lawyer for many years and now coaching lawyers for a few years, there seem to be some themes that come across our screens when we’re coaching people. And I suppose the main one that sticks out for us as coaches and as lawyers is the mindset around scarcity. As lawyers, we tend to hold this belief that there’s just not enough.

“There’s not enough work, there are not enough clients, there’s not enough intelligence, there’s just not enough to go around, and so we need to hold on to whatever we can. And I think that breeds the competitive nature of lawyers, and it really gets in the way of any collaboration that lawyers can benefit from,” she explained.

“[Another theme] that also sticks out is this idea that we’ve got to be perfect, that because our jobs require us to make sure we get it right, because other people’s lives sort of depend on that, we carry that mindset into everything else that we do. So we’ve got to be perfect in everything we do, and sometimes, that can lead us to what I’ll call major in the minor, and it can create a lot of stress in our lives outside of law, as well as inside of law.”

The scarcity mindset is something Ms Wentworth sees a lot of in her clientele — and a mindset that can create increased stress and anxiety.

“It also puts us or puts lawyers in that survival zone quite often, where they’re feeling like they need to defend, they need to fight, they need to stand their ground, they need to prove themselves, and it can become quite stressful for them, and it can lead to a lot of mental health issues. A lot of the work that I do with lawyers around that mindset is to actually help shift that mindset into something that’s a little bit more resourceful,” she added.

“That might be shifting some of the beliefs that underpin that mindset; a lot of the time, it comes back to the lawyer, where they believe they’re not enough. There’s that insecurity about whether or not they’re enough to be able to be part of the profession; are they cut out to be a lawyer? So, shifting that into something that’s a bit more resourceful, maybe a mindset of abundance or just a mindset of ‘enoughness’, and giving them that ability to really feel their power, they deserve to be there, they’re entitled to be in this profession.”

The feeling of a lack of “enoughness” is also something Ms Gray has seen, particularly in lawyers on the partner track.

“There is a mindset that I see quite often come up in the conversations where particularly if people are working in firms where there’s not a clear structure for promotion or progression, a mindset of, ‘well, if someone hasn’t yet told me that I’m on the path or that I’m worthy of being on the path, well then, I’m just not in the game’. And they come to me with this frustration that they really want to be considered for partnership, but because nobody has said anything to them yet, that that’s an option that doesn’t exist for them,” she said.

“So, for them, they’re really frustrated by this. And we see that particular mindset come up quite a lot. And by being able to shift that mindset, people can really start to see that actually they can start engaging in the conversations that can drive things in that direction rather than just sitting back and waiting for that conversation to happen.”

These mindsets can also be tough to shift, with some lawyers struggling to identify what their mindset actually is.

“For me, I mean, I practised for years and years and years, feeling as though I never had enough time to do my work within work hours before I switched over to family time. And I even held that mindset after I sort of retired from practice and moved on to be a coach and only working during school hours, because I’d become so practised at feeling I didn’t have enough time. I was still working on that, even though I had made conscious steps to reduce the number of hours that I was working,” Ms Gray added.

“So, it was all about being able to change my mindset that when it came to 2:30 and it was time to pack up work, that I could then say, ‘Actually, now I’m moving into a different mode.’ I’m consciously changing my mindset about where the scarcity is. The scarcity here is not about the work hours. The scarcity is about the amount of time that I have to spend in the family, with the family unit.

“And so being more conscious of it and finding your own way of doing something that’s going to work for you is really key. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach; it’s really about what works for the person and with particular regard for the specific nuance of the mindset that they hold and what beliefs underpin that.”

This is where having a professional coach can come in handy, emphasised Ms Wentworth.

“There are so many growth opportunities for us as human beings, and as lawyers, from being coached. Whether it is you want to be in charge of your mindset and, therefore, your results, whether it is you want to change your behaviour and the way you show up, whether it’s you want to change your self-concept of who you are because who you believe you are is just not working, it’s causing too much stress and anxiety, you can literally change your life by coming to see a coach,” she added.

“Because when you change the way you think, you change the way you feel, you change the way you behave, and you change your results.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Lara Wentworth and Katie Gray, click below: