Monday, 13 June 2011

What impact does perfectionism have on a lawyer’s career?

It concerned me to read recently that the number of LawCare cases being opened is still on the increase each year.  One of the reasons lawyers contact LawCare is for help with workplace stress, an issue that every lawyer must be aware of to enable them to look after themselves and others.

LawCare is an advisory and support service to help lawyers, their staff and their immediate families to deal with health problems such as depression and addiction, and related emotional difficulties.

In LawCare’s blog of 7th June, it was announced that a milestone had been passed with 200 case files having been opened so far in 2011.  Furthermore, it was reported that over 500 people a day are looking at www.lawcare.org.uk and that these statistics were not a good thing.  LawCare is not playing a numbers game and the preferred scenario is for the organisation to not be needed at all.

The reality is that LawCare is needed and one of the reasons for this is workplace stress.

Workplace stress affects many lawyers.  This can be for a variety of reasons such as risk of redundancy, heavy workloads and lack of control.  Through my experience of coaching solicitors, I also believe perfectionism, a common characteristic of lawyers, can also contribute to workplace stress.

How is perfection expected of lawyers? 

Through their studying, training and practise lawyers are competing everyday with high achievers.  On a personal level, many lawyers want to be the best at what they do and naturally see perfection as the way to achieve this.

Alongside this competitiveness, lawyers are required to work every day with precision to provide optimal results.  Each word in a document has to be correctly placed, all advice must be accurate and every argument has to be persuasive.  Again, perfection may be seen as the only way to achieve this.

Perfection is therefore a good thing, isn’t it?  Surely it creates the best lawyers?

Unfortunately, this focus on perfection has some less desirable side effects. 

It is very common for lawyers who have become perfectionists to develop behaviours which ultimately cause stress.  They begin to avoid risk taking (read my blog of 7th June), they fail to speak up for fear of getting something wrong or they work unnecessarily long hours to ensure their work is spot on.  Take a moment now to think of the stress this pressure can cause an individual.   Ultimately, as their fear of failure escalates, their self esteem will diminish.

What can be done?

Every lawyer’s training and personal development needs will be different and there are many techniques and tools that lawyers can use to assist them through their working day to alleviate the stress that they may feel. 

In the first instance, I am suggesting that lawyers recognise the impact workplace stress can have on an individual.  Even if you are not suffering from stress yourself, there may be others around you who are.  Awareness of this issue is the first step towards finding the solution.  Although perfection can be seen as a good thing, there must be recognition of the negative impact it can have on some lawyers.

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