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The ‘detrimental’ mindset lawyers can have

These legal coaches have seen a number of different mindsets in lawyers — some of which can be “detrimental”; both to their personal and professional lives.

user iconLauren Croft 11 July 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, how different mindsets may limit lawyers, and how these mindsets can be shifted.

There are a number of different mindsets, two of which Coaching Advocates see in lawyers: the scarcity mindset, which comes with insecurities and increased stress and anxiety, as well as the perfectionist mindset.

Once lawyers become aware of their mindsets, according to Ms Gray, they’ll be able to “move into a more empowered mindset.”

 
 

“COVID frustrated a lot of people, in terms of people who are looking for promotions, suddenly those options tend to disappear overnight, so then that scarcity mindset can really come in. But as we did see, lots of people did feel that actually they could be grateful of the turn of events because they could live differently.

“I think what we see now, with people going back to the office, is probably a mix of both and a bit more settling into the norm. And there is still that sort of comparison that goes on about who’s doing what, who has enough, who doesn’t have enough, and now we’re shifting into a different economic climate again. And so, we’ve seen that while people felt there were lots of opportunities out there, now purse strings are tightening, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if we certainly see people move more towards that scarcity mindset now.”

For those showing signs of a scarcity mindset, or anything else that may be deleterious to their career, Ms Wentworth said there can be detrimental impacts.

“Scarcity can create this fear of not having enough, fear of failure, fear of being exposed, it can really promote that imposter syndrome, and it can also stop us, as partners or leaders, from being vulnerable and showing vulnerability to our teams. We saw, post-COVID, not only the mindset of lawyers shifting, but the whole mental model of the profession moving and shifting into what can now be possible for us as practitioners. The whole work-from-home thing, virtual courts, a whole heap of different things have really challenged these almost set-in-stone mental models and beliefs about how we best practice. And now that’s been shifting and moving and people are starting to understand practice in different ways,” she explained.

“And although we saw more work come through lawyers’ doors through COVID, its interesting that we didnt see the scarcity mentality shift. We didnt see people go, ‘Oh, actually theres enough work for people. We dont have to hold our cards close to our chests. We dont have to just make sure that we are the ones billing more than the other person.’ It didnt change the mental model or the mindset, which is proof that mindset isnt just dependent on the environment, it really is an unconscious thing. Theyre the rules that we follow. And sometimes even when our environment changes, our mindset doesnt change.

“So, in terms of leaders and partners in law firms, I think that scarcity mindset can be really detrimental to our teams because it trickles down and it feeds into the mindset of our juniors and our staff. And I think it impedes trust in the team because it doesnt allow us to be vulnerable. It doesnt allow us to show what we might be struggling with.”

Having these types of mindsets is also something that lawyers practise, something which Ms Gray said can happen completely subconsciously.

“You probably practise it even if you dont know youre practising it. So, youre probably really perfect at holding this mindset, and that mindset is really a bundle of different beliefs that you hold and may not even be conscious that youre holding those beliefs or where theyre sending you. So absolutely, they do sort of shape where we end up, regardless of what is necessarily going on externally. And one thing we see often is that that sort of the external validation that people get from others, can sometimes not even be enough to shift their mindset because theyve practised holding that particular mindset for so long,” she added.

“And I think thats really where it can be helpful for them to sit with somebody who can observe what theyre saying, you can listen to their language and start to reflect back the mindset that this person is showing up as holding. And then from there, they can actually start to see the ramifications, because they hold this mindset, this is what they see as available to them, this is what they see as not available to them, and is that helping them get towards what they want to achieve or not?”

This means that mindsets can become part of a lawyer’s identity, which Ms Wentworth said can be hard to switch off.

“We know as lawyers, our path to success has almost been carved for us by people before us, and so we come to the profession with this idea of what success is, and very few people actually think about, well, what does success actually mean for me, and how do I carve my own path to achieve success? And so unfortunately, when we live by the values and the beliefs of what we think we should have, it becomes our own, it becomes our own mindset,” she said.

“And scarcity, unfortunately has kind of become part of that because to be a good lawyer, I need to be tough, I need to get as much as I can, Ive got to be dependable, I cant be weak, and all those things that go into the mindset of being a lawyer and, therefore, the identity of being a lawyer. And unless you get some help with that, unless you sit down with somebody who is experienced and knows how to listen for those things and can challenge those parts of you, it can be really hard to shift and break on your own.”

In terms of shifting these mindsets, Ms Wentworth said that particularly in times of economic turbulence, proactivity is “extremely important.”

“In times like this where there might be some distress financially and economically, we can go into that mindset of, theres really now not enough work, and weve got to bunker down, and we cant spend and we cant do things. Or, we can move into a growth mindset and think about, well, what are the opportunities here? What do we do to innovate so that we can move with the time, so that we can get the most and the best out of this situation?” she asked.

“So being proactive and conscious of how we behave and those beliefs that are holding us back, especially in times like this, is probably more important than ever before. Otherwise, well do what the mind likes to do and divert to the path of least resistance, and it goes to what it knows best, and it goes to those mindsets that weve had for a long time and we know how to do really well because weve practised those. So, unless we become conscious and a little bit more aware of our mindsets and the impact that its having on our environment and how were behaving, on our clients, on our results, it could be really detrimental not to do that.”

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:

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