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The importance of embracing vulnerability in the legal profession

In the legal world, where perfectionism often reigns supreme, there is a new conversation emerging – one that advocates for embracing vulnerability and acknowledging mistakes as essential parts of professional growth.

user iconGrace Robbie 16 May 2024 Big Law
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Lucy Dickens is a director for Perth-based law firm Curae Law, formerly known as Birman & Ride. She was also a finalist for the Australian Law Awards Innovator of the Year in 2020.

In addition to her role in the legal realm, Dickens is a best-selling author and a podcast host.

Speaking on a recent episode of The Boutique Lawyer Show, Dickens delved into the prevalent culture of silence surrounding personal struggles within the legal profession. She emphasised the imperative in shifting this mindset, highlighting the significance of embracing vulnerability and sharing experiences to foster a more supportive and relatable environment.

 
 

Dickens pointed out the tendency for legal professionals to internalise their struggles due to the vulnerability associated with admitting mistakes or difficulties.

“We tend to keep it to ourselves. It’s the vulnerability of sharing that you’ve made a mistake or that you find things difficult. I think we all struggle with it, and I don’t know that anyone kind of has the perfect answer, but I’m pleased that you’ve invited me on to discuss it because I think it’s important that we’re all more open about it,” she said.

Dickens outlined two key reasons for advocating for openness and breaking the silence surrounding mistakes and struggles within the legal community.

“There are two reasons. One, I think it makes us more approachable for staff, for people who might want to come and work for us or for customers, for clients and also for our peers.

“The other one is that it makes us more approachable, more relatable, but also because I think we need to help each other in the profession to be more open and honest about this because we are all struggling with it,” she said.

“The more we can talk about these kinds of things, the easier it becomes. Reduce the pressure on ourselves collectively when we are all more open about it.”

Reflecting on her personal experiences, Dickens shared a time when she felt burnt out towards the end of last year. Initially, she internalised these emotions.

“Towards the end of last year, I was feeling what I’m calling burnt out. I didn’t really recognise it as that at the time. I just felt fed up, and that’s not like me because I love my work, and I’m always excited to come into work, and I was just kind of getting this feeling of dullness, and I started learning about burnout,” she said.

However, it was only upon sharing these feelings with her team that Dickens recognised the impact of being vulnerable with others in times of weakness.

“Then I started sharing what I was learning with people in my team. So, I was telling them, I’m feeling this way and these are the things that I’m trying to do to make it better,” she said.

“I got feedback from my team that they felt relieved to hear me say that I was also dealing with some of the same struggles that they did; fear about making mistakes or just feeling tired or not wanting to come to work today because I really just need a rest day. The response was, your vulnerability makes it OK for us to feel this way.”

Acknowledging diverse coping mechanisms within the legal profession, Dickens emphasised the importance of open dialogue in identifying effective strategies for managing stress.

“I think everybody has different ways of coping and different kinds of mechanisms for dealing with the stress that comes from legal practice as well as, in my case and your case, having a family.

“We all have different coping strategies and ways that we deal with this. And I think talking about it helps us to identify, ‘Oh, well, here’s something that you do. Maybe I can try that and see if that helps me,’” she said.

By sharing experiences and learning from one another, legal professionals can collectively alleviate the pressure associated with their demanding roles.