However, when all is said and done, most attorneys tend to receive far more criticism than encouragement. Clients, judges, superiors, and others are always quick to criticize them. The attorney’s bills are seen as too high or not fair, and the clients are not always happy with the results they receive. Because encouragement does not frequently come, many attorneys work under the persistent belief that they are doing something wrong. They get depressed, they withdraw, and they become angry.
The Impact on Your Life and Family
For attorneys with families, the lack of encouragement at work is often not helped when they get home either. Because the attorney is billing so many hours, hustling to get business, and exhausting themselves physically and mentally, they often do not have a lot of energy—or much else—to give when they return home at the end of the day. Their significant others may be angry that they are not putting effort into the relationship or that they are becoming unpleasant to be around. The only love available may revolve around being able to provide material things and financial contributions—however, this is rarely enough.
Life for many attorneys becomes a struggle to be accepted, to try to find reassurance, and to live with the constant feeling that there is not enough encouragement. In an effort to feel good—or perhaps out of a sense of confusion—many attorneys will start getting involved in self-destructive behaviors, including affairs, substance abuse, and more. Attorneys are people and like everyone else, they want to feel good about themselves and crave encouragement. Without encouragement, they feel lost.
Everyone measures themselves against something. When a future attorney is in school, they measure themselves by their grades. When an attorney starts working, they measure themselves with hours billed, bonuses, reviews, becoming a partner, fees collected, the prestige of their law firm, and the prestige of their clients. All of these things are meant to give the attorney encouragement—and the attorney needs to find encouragement in these things to stay motivated. In fact, many people need to find constant encouragement in the world to stay motivated, no matter what they do for a living.
Find People Who Encourage You
One of the greatest keys to being happy and successful in your career and life is surrounding yourself with people who encourage you and bring out the best in you. Organizations can encourage and bring out the best in you. Individual people can encourage and bring out the best in you. Conversely, the wrong organization or person can bring out the worst in you. Being constantly reminded of how we fail to measure up to someone’s expectations or an organization’s view of us can be soul-crushing on many levels.
I know a man who was in a very unhappy marriage for several years. His wife was from a very wealthy background, and he was not. She did not work and had few skills to speak of. Nevertheless, she constantly told him that he did not make enough money, that her father was more successful than him, and frequently brought up his past mistakes. On top of all of this, she was very social and spent most of her time running around and associating with people he did not like. Her friends were high-society types who regularly went to big parties with famous people, which made him uncomfortable. She constantly chastised him for not being part of her social groups, among other things. Nevertheless, he was paying for her social lifestyle and working long hours and sacrificing to do so.
During the marriage, he understandably became extremely depressed. He would wake up every morning, and one remark or another would be made about his shortcomings. He would hear about various mistakes she thought he had made throughout the day and she would frequently be angry. She would tell him stories about how many of their friends were having affairs because “their husbands did not treat them right” and there was always a threat that she would do the same to him. She spent her days talking to her various friends about how bad her marriage was and how bad her husband was—conversations that he would often overhear.
This constant criticism and lack of appreciation caused him many issues. He got sick. He drank too much. He sat around on the couch at night watching television and avoiding his wife. He was in a lot of pain. Eventually his wife did have an affair and decided to divorce him.
The most incredible thing happened to him as he was getting divorced, however. His depression, sickness, drinking, and everything else went away. Over the course of several months—despite being sued by his wife for divorce—he got better. He met new people who thought highly of him and recognized his value. He became much happier and started going out, meeting new people, and everything changed. He even got better at his job. It turns out that he was extremely successful and had a ton to offer the world. He was just around someone who did not appreciate his value.
After his wife filed for divorce, her affair was quickly over. Without someone to criticize all the time, she became incredibly depressed herself. Criticizing her husband had been a form of therapy for her all along—something she used to feel good about herself. She started taking antidepressants, going on retreats, and going to therapy several times a week in an attempt to feel better. She had seemed happy when she had someone to criticize all the time—but when that outlet was removed, she had to take a hard look at herself and her own actions. When we are critical of others, it is often a way for us to feel good about ourselves rather than look at our own shortcomings.
I had never seen someone transition like this to such a degree. When someone is in an unhappy marriage and surrounded by people who are putting them down all the time, the person is bound to feel depressed. No one wants to live in an environment where they are put down, attacked, and criticized all the time. When we feel unappreciated, we have to look for ways to make us feel good about ourselves.
What the man did wrong was not taking control of his life sooner. One of the reasons why he was so miserable was because he felt like the problem was outside of his control—he had children and believed that getting divorced was unthinkable. No matter what sort of changes he made, he thought there was no way to stop the criticism in his life. He felt trapped in an environment where someone just saw the worst in him all the time, pointed out his faults, and did not appreciate any of the good things he was doing in his life or for her. Feeling trapped—especially with someone who only sees the worst in us—is one of the most horrible feelings a person can have.
An Attorney’s Perspective
This brings me back to being an attorney, working in a law firm, and how attorneys deal with the pervasive lack of encouragement and negative feedback at work. Many attorneys are in law firm positions they do not enjoy and which are very stressful for them. They work closely with clients and others who are critical and do not encourage them. Law firms also send out mixed signals of encouragement, and attorneys often do not know where they stand. Without encouragement or anyone in their corner, an attorney may start going through the same situation my friend went through—becoming extremely depressed and feeling stuck.
Why would an attorney feel stuck? Attorneys often feel stuck because of the fact that they may be around people who do not appreciate them, but there is nothing they can do. They may be in a position where they need to make money to pay for student loans, car payments, mortgages, children, and more. The longer an attorney has practiced law, the more likely they are to have all sorts of obligations that trap them into staying with law and working in an environment where they feel unappreciated.
One of the most insidious characteristics of attorneys who feel trapped is that many of them feel that way because they are concerned about what others think of them. Young attorneys especially are very cognizant of the prestige of working in a certain type of law firm, in a major market, and so forth. These attorneys care more about how others see them than how appreciated they are. They would rather be unhappy and unappreciated than risk looking less successful in the eyes of other attorneys. How they appear to others is very important to many attorneys, which is dangerous in all respects.
If you are afraid of what others think of you, it is likely that you fear your own negative thoughts (“I’m not a good attorney” or “I’m not good enough to work in a major firm”) being reflected back to you by others. We don’t want the same things that we fear about ourselves being talked about by the people we work with.
I recently fired an attorney. She was an older woman who walked into my office one day and stated right out of the blue that she would like to work for me and represent me. She had a good resume and good experience, so I decided to take a chance on her. She had been in-house for the past fifteen years, but had done work that made it appear as if she was capable of doing the job.
Within a short period of time, I realized that she did not have the skills to do much of anything. Her writing was poor. She did not have strong legal analysis skills. She did not have a good understanding of legal concepts. Her work was littered with formatting errors, missed legal conclusions, and more. In short, it was a complete disaster—I cannot even believe this person was an attorney.
I waited for a brief time for her to improve because I could not believe that someone with her background could be so “rusty” with her legal skills. It quickly became apparent that she just did not have the skills to be good at her job. I gave her the worst possible feedback I could, and she must have felt terrible realizing what a bad attorney I thought she was. I was not alone. Everyone she dealt with both inside and outside of the company thought she was terrible. It was so bad that I decided to have her work on nothing was better than having her do anything at all. Literally, everything this woman touched turned out worse than before she did it. She was a liability and should not be practicing law.
I have a big heart and I like to help people—but even my heart has limits! This woman did not deserve any kind of encouragement whatsoever and should be doing something else. Maybe just looking busy can work for 15 years in large corporations, but it did not work with me. Had I allowed her to stay here, I would have undermined her confidence and belief in her abilities several times a day, and she might have lost her marbles as a consequence.
Chances are that you are getting more encouragement in your position than this woman did—but you may not be. This woman should have quit before she was fired and realized she was in over her head.
If you are not getting any encouragement in your job and feel undermined, criticized, and put down all the time—you should find an environment that encourages you and makes you feel good about yourself. Everyone deserves to have people in their lives who believe in them.
One of the reasons I like being a legal recruiter and even writing articles like this is that I have the opportunity to encourage people, and I believe in them. When a good legal recruiter sees the best in you, it can make a profound difference in your life and career. I believe in all of my candidates and help them succeed at a level that exceeds what most of them could do on their own. I make a point to tell them everything they are doing right. I see their strengths and bring them out when I communicate with law firms on their behalf. Because I believe in my candidates—and ultimately, they begin to believe in themselves—they go further and achieve more.
I have worked in the personal development world for many years. One of the things that most personal development people teach is that we are responsible for everything that happens in our lives. If you are in a job or relationship that you hate, you have the ability to change it. The man I know who was in an abusive relationship should have divorced his wife sooner. An attorney who is in a job that does not work for them, where they are continually put down and criticized, should be doing something else.
We choose how we react to whatever happens to us. We can either be unhappy and miserable, or we can be happy. If you are around people who do not appreciate you and constantly give you negative feedback, you are going to be unhappy.
One of the most important things that we can do is to make sure we put ourselves in environments that encourage us and do not push us down all the time. While all success is based on sacrifice, working hard, improving, and weathering storms, there are a lot of toxic environments out there—and certain law firms are more toxic than others. If you are in a bad situation and do not see it changing any time soon, it is within your control to leave and do something else. And you should—you will never be happy until you make a change.
The reason that so many attorneys do not leave situations and people who make them unhappy is because doing so threatens their identity. If our identity is wrapped up in being married to a certain person or working in a certain law firm, we will avoid changing because it threatens how we view ourselves. We want to see ourselves as a certain type of person, and we take comfort in it.
My plea to you is that you work with people who encourage and bring out the best in you. Find relationships that bring out the best in you and make you happy. If you do not feel encouraged in whatever you are doing, make a change—and make it now.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.