How to combat impostor syndrome in your legal career

Ken Okumura, Legal Recruitment Manager at Robert Walters

Many legal professionals have felt out of their depth at some point and have doubted they are good enough, diligent enough or resilient enough to excel in a legal career. Although, for some, these feelings of inadequacy may be fleeting, for others they may fester to the point where they suffer from ‘impostor syndrome’ – questioning their own abilities and fearing that they will be exposed as a fraud or a failure. Occurring in environments of intense pressure, impostor syndrome is all too common in the legal industry, where a misplaced comma can change the entire meaning of a clause in a contract and result in huge liability.

Are you struggling to recognise your value in your current role? Ken Okumura, Legal Recruitment Manager at Robert Walters, draws from his own experience as a Senior Associate, sharing five key tips to help you combat impostor syndrome in your legal career.

Look to your employer’s support network

If you identify symptoms of impostor syndrome, Ken explains how the first port of call should be your internal support network and how this level of support offered can vary vastly from one firm to the next:

“Communication is key. Your organisation should have some sort of support structure in place for you to discuss your doubts and concerns, whether it be your human resources department, or more senior colleagues. However, from my own experience working within different law firms and with different partners and senior lawyers, there can be a vast difference in approach taken by those in positions of responsibility and authority as to how their subordinate colleagues are instructed, supervised, and mentored.”

If you are not enjoying what you are doing or where you are doing it, there are other options elsewhere that can bring that enjoyment back, whether or not that involves remaining in the legal industry. It could be that push to help you make that leap to a new, exciting opportunity.

“It is exactly that sort of support (or lack thereof) that can eliminate or exacerbate those feelings of being out of your depth. If you’re not getting enough support from your firm on a regular basis, it can have a hugely detrimental effect on both your emotional wellbeing and your career itself.”

Give yourself more credit

Ken comments how taking a step back to recognise your contribution to your company can help you combat those feelings of self-doubt and empower you to progress in your legal career.

“You need to remember that you are better than you give yourself credit for and you are more valuable to your firm and your clients than they necessarily give you credit for. In today’s world of increasingly competitive, time-pressured and commoditised legal work, demands can be unreasonable and recognition and thanks for doing a good job can often be forgotten in the rush to move onto another matter. Instilling a culture of workplace recognition among colleagues can help eliminate feelings of impostor syndrome.”

“If you’re constantly undermining yourself with feelings that you don’t belong or aren’t capable of doing the work that is given to you, then it will inevitably make you less confident, less likely to take steps to advance your career, and less likely to enjoy your time at work.”

Prioritise your wellbeing

If your current legal role is negatively affecting your wellbeing, it could be a sign that you need to take some time to look out for yourself.

Ken highlights, “Impostor syndrome in its most aggressive form can cause real detriment to your mental health and general wellbeing. This can lead to a downward spiral where work is put off until the last minute and then rushed when there is no choice but to deal with it.”

“There is no point in being miserable in something that takes you away from home every weekday (and probably some weekends). Your happiness is more important than your job.”

Don’t settle for the status quo

If you’re not enjoying working life or feel able to perform in your role, Ken highlights it could be the time to take the next step in your legal career:

“Lawyers are generally, by their professional nature, fairly risk-averse. This can often make it difficult for them to take steps to try to improve their situation as there can be feelings of “What if I move to another firm and it’s no better there – maybe it’s better to stick with what I know?” or “I’ve put in so much time and effort here that if I stick it out a bit longer surely I’ll be rewarded”. There can be a certain amount of Stockholm Syndrome as well – despite objectively being treated poorly by a firm, people may have an unflinching loyalty to it as a coping mechanism.”

“If you are not enjoying what you are doing or where you are doing it, there are other options elsewhere that can bring that enjoyment back, whether or not that involves remaining in the legal industry. It could be that push to help you make that leap to a new, exciting opportunity.”

“I undoubtedly suffered from a period of Impostor Syndrome during my career although I didn’t recognise it as such at the time, and it took moving firms to release me from that mindset.”

Seek advice externally

If you’re not getting the support you need from your employer, looking to the wider network of legal professionals outside your organisation could help you gain perspective on your situation.

Ken concludes, “Do take it from someone who has “been there, done that” and who has also known and helped many others in the same situation. Talk to someone – whether that’s a recruiter, a friend or family and get the support and encouragement you need to improve your situation.”

 

For more advice about taking the next step in your legal career, please contact Ken Okumura at ken.okumura@robertwalters.com or +44 (0)207 509 8741 for a confidential discussion about your situation.

 

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