NBH 034: Lawyer Fragility

There is a lot of talk right now about race relations in America, and there is a book and concept called “White Fragility.” I am playing on that concept here to talk about something in our profession. The idea of fragility is that when we don't deal with something, when we are not allowing ourselves to feel the discomfort of what's happening (the responsibility), we become fragile. Because if it gets to be too much, we don't want to face the truth about something. And so we become fragile. That's kind of the general concept. For lawyers, we are also fragile about our profession and this is something that's hard to talk about.

I experience it myself as a lawyer. I often feel fragile identifying with this profession. The reason is, even though I love being a lawyer, I feel a little responsible for how broken the system is. Even though I have joined this profession to help fix the system and to bring justice to people, to give people a voice, often it feels like we are fighting against a system that is so entrenched. It's so unjust. We are joining it to bring justice by playing the rules of the system that we don't agree with. As everybody is facing our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses, it's time to look at our role as lawyers, now that we have taken off the mask. Consider our fragility and our hesitance to look at the system that we work in, and that we accept. We have ethical obligations, and we can't change everything, and…we can definitely help.

It's just important to acknowledge that we're part of a system that is not working. That may help those of you who are struggling with your identity: being a lawyer, being authentically you, while having these different personas and these different lives in order to function in the world we're in. This month I am talking about authentic branding. We talked about the truth about imposter syndrome. We talked about removing the lawyer mask. And today I'm talking about lawyer fragility. That means when we remove the mask and we realize that we are actually imposters, what's underneath? An amazing person, of course…who is struggling with our role and identity as a lawyer. How do we fit in, how does this connect with our core values? Can we really make a difference? Are the losses bringing us down more than the successes bringing us up?

There's nothing we can do in one full sweep other than awareness. And that is what is happening in the world. We are becoming more aware of who we are and how we play. What level do we want to play on? I strongly believe that each and every lawyer can make the smallest shifts in awareness that will result in tremendous change in the legal profession. We can shift just a little bit. If opposing counsel, if our colleagues, are doing something that we think is not fair or just, or deserving of the reputation of lawyer, what can we do? Sometimes we can't DO anything, but what can we NOT do? Can we not engage? Can we not identify with that as if it's part of ourselves, or part of our failures? How can we take the high road?

This takes a lot of work and a lot of soul searching, and this is the journey we're on. But what about creating a moment of awareness when we get upset or when we see something that's not right, and we just want to quit the whole show. What can we do in that moment to make ourselves stronger, so we're not so fragile, so that we can step in this new role as lawyer, in this new world that we're creating? In this new world, we're strong, we are passionate, we're zealous advocates for creating a new world of practicing law. We will be lawyers, but how will we be lawyers? From where are we going to come? That has to come from authenticity. It has to come from ourselves. If we can be more and more authentic, if we can be bold, audacious lawyers in our authentic selves, what will that mean for the legal profession? What will that mean for the clients we serve? What will that mean for the general public and the reputation of lawyers? What will that mean for conflict as we move forward? If we can change how we are, how we show up, we can make a big change in the world. By strengthening ourselves, we strengthen the impact we will have.

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