Fear Hits a Double

Fear Strikes Out

Legal Ethics Forum has a post on an intriguing article by John Lande “Escaping Lawyers Prison of Fear“.  The abstract:


Lawyers regularly experience numerous fears endemic to their work. This is not surprising considering that lawyers generally operate in environments that frequently stimulate many fears. Lawyers’ fears can lead them to enhance their performance due to increased preparation and effective “thinking on their feet.” Fear is problematic when it is out of proportion to actual threats, is expressed inappropriately, or is chronically unaddressed effectively. It can lead to sub-optimal and counterproductive performance through paralysis, ritualized behavior, or inappropriate aggression. Some lawyers’ fears unnecessarily prevent them from performing well, producing good results for clients, earning more income, and experiencing greater satisfaction in their work. Lawyers who manage their fears effectively are likely to do better than those who do not manage their fears as well. This article suggests ways that lawyers can take advantage of the benefits of their fears and reduce problems caused by them. It concludes with suggestions for lawyers, legal educators, and bar association officials to promote constructive methods of dealing with fears.

Paralysis, ritualized behavior and inappropriate aggression sound familiar enough.  We certainly see a lot that in the world of legal ethics, maybe especially those of us who work in the discipline system.

But what is not so familiar is Lande’s thesis that fear can actually be a good thing for a lawyer, that fear (dare I say even a touch of paranoia can actually be a functional trait for a lawyer.)  Fear is an emotion that stimulates a greater sensitivity to threat, and many legal environments are full of threats.  Traits that might be labelled insanity in most people are useful for lawyers.  Many of us have worked for highly successful lawyers that were mostly insane.  That may be part of why our profession is regarded with ambivalence by outsiders.  They see our profession as sick but necessary.  We scare them but they need us.

I will be interested to read Lande’s suggestions about how he we manage our fears more effectively.   By an interesting co-incidence I am reading Jonathan’s Haight’s “The Righteous Mind”.  Following his his metaphor of reason as rider and instinct as elephant, I think there is only so much the rider can do with this elephant.  People who live in constant fear generally become increasingly dysfunctional; I have met more than a few lawyers who refer to themselves as “recovering litigators.”

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