Building and maintaining confidence as a lawyer

Tracey Mylecharane

The legal profession, much like life, is not immune from the onlookers happy to comment and criticise the ability or judgement of others.

When I read last week’s blog about the concept of courage written by my colleague Craig Collins, I began to think more deeply about the significance of Confidence, and why that is so important in practice, and equally, how it can be so fragile.

Simply put, confidence is a trait that lawyers need to possess. Without it, being successful will be difficult.  Confidence is critical for a lawyer to be able to discharge the various obligations imposed on us by the profession - the most obvious of these duties that come to mind are our duties to the client, to the court, to the profession and significantly, to ourselves.

When a client sits in front of you as his or her lawyer, they want to know that you know what you are talking about.  They want to know that they are in good hands –otherwise why would they be there.  A lawyer needs to know the law, needs to know their case, and they need to know what they don't know (on this, I suggest you look at a recent blog post on this very point by my colleague Elizabeth Keogh of 31 January 2017). 

Being new to the practice of law can be daunting, even overwhelming at times.  It can be tricky to know how to develop confidence in the profession, and once you have it, it can be even trickier to maintain it.  It almost seems cliché to say that you will benefit from the knocks and falls that you take, that you will learn and build your character.  Be cliché as it might, it is true.  Drawing from time in practice – taking from the good, the bad, and the ugly – I can offer you the following advice for developing and maintaining your confidence (and your composure):

  1. Know your practice area – keep up to date with developments in the law, with recent decisions and commentary.  Be thorough.  Read as much as you can.
  2. Find a mentor – this does not have to be formal, but you will benefit greatly from someone to seek guidance from when you are unsure and when you are having issues.  Someone to offer advice, help you think things through and identify what you might have missed.
  3. Ask questions – if you don’t know, ask.  It is that simple.  You cannot be too prepared.  Confidence will come when you remove the doubt in your own mind.
  4. Be true to yourself – Know who you are, what you stand for, and be clear on your values.  Once you know this it will be easier to navigate the challenges that will come your way.  Don’t let anyone or anything cause you to compromise on this.    
  5. Back yourself - Put in the hard work.  Make the effort.  Don’t take shortcuts.  Once you apply this, it will be much easier to stand your ground, debate your issues and withstand criticism of your position.

Like life, the practice of law is public and often carried out for all to see (the client, the opponent, in many cases the court, and then of course, the profession).  At the end of the day the famous word of Theodore Roosevelt in ‘The man in the arena’ are so deeply appropriate here:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

The legal profession, much like life, is not immune from the onlookers happy to comment and criticise the ability or judgement of others.  Whilst it does not take any skill to sit on the side line and criticize, a lot like life, it will happen. 

Always remember, the person in the arena having a go is you – the lawyer in the matter. So be confident in yourself and in your position and you will develop the ability to withstand whatever comes your way.

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  Director, GDLP/Page Contact:  Program Coordinator, GDLP