Home Concepts Strategy Coaching in Legal Institutions The Good, the Bad and the Non-Billable: The Reality of Coaching Lawyers

The Good, the Bad and the Non-Billable: The Reality of Coaching Lawyers

19 min read

Lawyers Feel the Need to be Right and Stay in Control

The final challenge that I will address is the tendency for lawyers to feel the need to be right as a way to stay in control.  This comes about, in part, because the law attracts a lot of people with cautious, security-oriented personalities.  My favorite college professor used to say that lawyers are like white-collar postal workers. He came from a working class neighborhood where everyone wanted a job with the U.S. Postal Service because it paid relatively well and had job security.  He was absolutely correct about lawyers.  Many people go to law school because it seems like a safe choice; after all, it’s a well-paid, respectable profession that doesn’t require much math or passion for a particular subject matter.  Thus, the legal profession attracts cautious, sensible people who are also smart enough and academically oriented enough to thrive in an intellectual environment.  These traits are admirable and work well in many regards.  However, when you combine the typical lawyer’s need for stability and control with the tendency to use intelligence, knowledge and being right as the go-to tools for winning in life, you find a lot of lawyers who feel the need to stay in control by anticipating problems and using their big brains to outsmart the people around them.

Virtually everyone, regardless of profession, wants to be correct in their predictions and estimations, as ways to cope with and be successful in the world.  However, lawyers approach this from an unusually negative and critical perspective. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, describes the unique challenges of the legal mind in his book Authentic Happiness. He explains that lawyers tend to be pessimistic, meaning that they see “bad events as pervasive, permanent, and uncontrollable” in contrast to optimists who “sees them as local, temporary and changeable.”  Pessimism is maladaptive in most professions; in other words, pessimists get worse outcomes than optimists. The field of law is the exception. A pessimistic outlook is helpful in a profession where the goal is to anticipate all the possible things that could go wrong and protect against them.  Nonetheless, such an outlook inevitably makes lawyers even more cautious, risk averse and dead set on being as “right” as possible.

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