Brooklyn Law Prof. Heidi K. Brown offers some important insights about lawyers (and law students, and yes, it’s applicable to pre-laws as well) and anxiety, as well a some tips for working through the anxiety rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.
Our society promotes conflicting messages about anxiety and fear. On the one hand, we are constantly told fear is no big deal. “Just face your fears!” “Do something every day that scares you!” “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough! Get bigger, scarier dreams!” Or we are advised that fear is good for us; it’s motivating; it means we care. I’ve heard members of our profession admonish: “If you stop being scared, it’s time to leave the law.” Or some quip: “Anxiety is part of the job. It comes with the territory. Deal with it, or perhaps you should consider doing something else.”
Under such a framework, we seem to be relegated to three scenarios: (1) come off the factory line flawless, ready and raring to spar; (2) be terrified, but do it anyway or (3) quit.
When can we say, “I’m a really hard worker, but what I’m about to do is new territory for me. And yes, I’m scared. I don’t want to pretend I’m not. Instead, I want to understand what is driving my fear, work through it and then accomplish the objective”?
Whether you are a law student, a litigator or a premier athlete such as Osaka or Biles, if you feel unsafe in that environment, no amount of badgering or cajoling or “just do it” or “fake it till you make it” mentality is going to work.
What does work? Making it OK to talk about this stuff and then providing concrete, practical steps for working through the fear.
Read more of Prof. Brown’s insights in this article from the December 2021 ABA (American Bar Association) Journal: What elite athletes like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles can teach lawyers about performance anxiety