The Humble Lawyer

The Humble Lawyer

The Humble Lawyer

Humility is sometimes defined as freedom from pride or arrogance. Studies show that humble people handle stress more effectively and report higher levels of physical and mental well-being. Unfortunately, it can be challenging for mere humans to express humility. Typically, this is attributed to our misinterpretation that actively demonstrating humility is a sign of weakness. In truth, humility is a sign of inner strength.

Unfortunately, lawyers are often portrayed as anything but humble. The words “egotistical,” “arrogant,” and “pompous” are some of the words often used to characterize attorneys. Many of the descriptive words used to describe lawyers have the prefix “self” before them, which says a lot about society’s perception of lawyers.

While it may be easy to say that some lawyers are self-absorbed, self-centered, or self-important, it still is a stereotype and does not pertain to each lawyer in America practicing law. Some of the kindest, caring, most unselfish individuals I have ever met in my life have been lawyers. Really.

In response to the question “why are lawyers so egotistical,” one attorney gives three reasons for this “phenomenon.” First, he said that it is because attorneys believe they are supposed to be “jerks,” so they act like “jerks” when practicing law in the public eye. While some attorneys are certainly “jerks,” I have a difficult time accepting this as a primary reason for lawyers lacking humility.

The second reason he gives is that clients believe that hiring a “jerk” is the key to winning. Clients believe that if they hire an attorney who acts otherwise, they are demonstrating weakness. Since lawyers never want to appear weak in front of clients, they exhibit behavior that makes them appear to be brash and abrasive. Of course, many lawyers, like many humans, are insecure and tend to overcompensate.

The third and final reason may be the best explanation. The practice of law attracts certain personality types. Litigation is adversarial. Parties retain lawyers to represent them for one thing and one thing only – to win. This requires the mindset of uncovering the weaknesses of your opponents and asserting one’s dominant position. This attracts those certain types of people who enjoy the competition and the fight. And these are people who tend to be aggressive, confident, and overly competitive about winning. For clients, this is not a bad thing. Outside the courtroom, these may be some of the nicest people you may ever meet, but inside. . .

As I have grown older as an attorney, I have come to believe that many lawyers, myself included, graduated from law school with not only a degree in law but also with something else attached to our blossoming but fragile egos and intellects: An elevated self-perception that we, as lawyers, know all there is to know about anything and everything that comes our way. It is a little bit like a “superhuman” complex. To believe that you are superhuman is certainly not an act of humility. No lawyer needs to be more than a competent, effective attorney and advocate.

“Humility leads to a balanced perspective and a focus on lawyering as just one of many callings an individual may have.” This is certainly a valid and meritorious statement that most lawyers should remember.

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