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Your biggest obstacle is your mind

Clients. Research. Billings. Technology. Clients. Home. Clients. Emails. Court. Research. Clients. Partners. Students. Marketing. Billing. Clients. Clients. Clients.


Any lawyer in private practice can likely relate. It is a never-ending treadmill. If you aren’t in private practice, just substitute some of those words — maybe “boss” instead of “clients” or “meetings” instead of “marketing” but you get the point. It is all so overwhelming, but what can you do? Being busy is a sign of success, right? Having nothing to do would be worse.

Actually, you are wrong. You need to stop and do nothing. You need to clear your head. Busy and successful are not synonyms.

This is a common misconception held by professionals, and it is damaging to your success. As Philip Slayton outlines in his column (p.16 of our July 2017 issue), “Overwork, generally defined as consistently working more than 40 hours a week, leads to chronic stress and anxiety, substance abuse, sleep disorders, a weakened immune system, depression, weight gain, hypertension, heart disease, chronic fatigue and diabetes.” You may feel as though you are projecting success when you brag about how busy you are, but you may actually be killing yourself. Why brag about that?

The key to dealing with the external pressures is to put them aside and look within. And there is a growing field of literature that shows that, for many of the tasks lawyers spend their time doing, the human mind is not the best tool. As Kate Simpson outlines in her column on predicting outcomes (p. 18 of our July 2017 issue), when experts study how the human mind works, they identify a number of habits that need to be overcome to make accurate predictions. We create all sorts of mental shortcuts that are helpful in a pinch — perhaps when an angry client is outside your door — that don’t work so well for tasks that require deep analysis. Lawyers need to understand the mental shortcuts they are constantly using to make better decisions.

In our cover story, we interview coaches whose job it is to help lawyers do just that. Looking inward and focusing on the mind, coaches help lawyers overcome their own personalities to better perform at their job. Paulette Pommells recounts how one of her clients developed her own Oakes test, where she trained herself to ask “What will it entail if I say yes to this opportunity?” every time a new demand came up. Ian Solomon helped a lawyer become much more profitable after shifting away from family law to do more real estate and wills and estates instead of just doing more work. Sheena MacAskill has taught her client to shift from a “judger” to a “learner” mindset, improving his interpersonal skills and, therefore, getting better results. Kathryn Szymczyk teaches her clients that the lawyer’s rule of thumb to never to ask a question to which they don’t know the answer needs to be set aside when doing business development. Linda Parsons taught her client to avoid emails and phone calls for the first three to four hours of her workday to get the more difficult drafting and analytical work out of the way.

Not every lawyer will have the time or the budget for a coach. But all lawyers have the time to stop and fix what is often the real culprit — their own mind.