Lawyers and Resilience

Challenge, change and uncertainty are the new norm in today’s legal profession. Busy lawyers are maxed out as they deal with the stress and pressure of a demanding profession, and law firms and organizations are looking for new strategies to attract and retain top talent. Lawyers just out of law school are expected to be “practice ready,” and the expectation is they will be not only capable technicians, but also be ready to solve client’s complex problems by collaborating with other professionals in an innovative way.

Resilience is a person’s capacity for stress-related growth, and lawyer personality research reveals that lawyers as a population tend to be quite low in the trait. In fact, many lawyers score in the 30th percentile or lower on the trait, revealing thin-skinned tendencies, taking criticism personally, and being overly defensive and resistant to feedback.  We theorize that lawyers are so low in resilience because the two main building blocks that grow it, (i) having an optimistic explanatory style about challenges; and (ii) high-quality connections with others, are frustrated by lawyers’ exceedingly high levels of skepticism and exceedingly low levels of sociability.

The ABA National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being recently recommended that one of the key things law firms can do to help build lawyer well-being is offering courses, information and workshops on building resilience using the Army’s own resilience training as a model. Having taught resilience skills to thousands of lawyers and leaders, here are three key things that resilient lawyers do differently:

They see resilience as a core leadership skill. Resilience is an important leadership skill to develop. The Army resilience program demonstrated that those officers with higher levels of resilience were promoted ahead of schedule, were assigned tougher tasks, and achieved the rank of a one star general faster than their low-resilience counterparts. As the profession continues on the path of change, lawyers need to do more than just be technically proficient. They need to develop opportunity-creating professional networks and build professional skills that are adaptable to any professional context. And, as lawyers continue to try out new products, services and ways of doing business, failure will happen as a natural by-product of innovation.

They cross-examine their own thinking. Lawyers spend years learning how to “think like a lawyer,” which is helpful to their clients but can seriously undermine their resilience when they fail to appropriately analyze their own thinking when needed. Resilient lawyers avoid these three key thinking mistakes when things go wrong:

  1. High-achieving perfectionists tend to blame themselves when things go wrong, and lawyers are no exception. While you may be responsible for some aspect of a setback, usually a number of factors contributed to the problem. Instead of getting stuck ruminating about what you could have done differently, resilient lawyers quickly focus their time and energy on areas where they have control, influence and leverage.
  2. When things are going south at work or feel awful at home, it can be difficult to compartmentalize; however, resilience lawyers know how to limit the psychological damage by not letting an adversity in one area of life spillover into another area.
  3. Resilience lawyers “embrace the suck.” When faced with a setback, they understand it might not be pretty in the short term, but there will eventually be a light at the end of the tunnel.

They cultivate relational energy.  One way to cultivate high-quality relationships is to pay attention to your “relational energy.” Relational energy is how much your interactions with others motivate, invigorate and energize, rather than drain or exhaust. Not surprisingly, research showed that a person’s relational energy network predicted both job performance and job engagement better than networks based on influence or information.


We have designed and taught resilience workshops and training sessions for thousands of attorneys and law students, and Paula speaks extensively about the importance of building resilience to stress in her work.


Please take a look at the speaking and training programs we offer, and please contact Paula with any questions you may have or to book a workshop or keynote at your firm or organization.