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Understanding and overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the Legal Sector

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Understanding and overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the Legal Sector

​Have you ever felt like a fraud at work, as if your achievements were due to luck rather than your skills and efforts? If so, you're not alone. About 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Imposter syndrome is the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.

Paradoxically, those who experience imposter syndrome are often highly accomplished individuals. On the outside, they appear confident and capable, yet internally, they grapple with feelings of inadequacy. This disconnect makes imposter syndrome a challenging psychological phenomenon to address, especially in the legal profession.

Why the Legal Sector is a breeding ground for Imposter Syndrome

The legal profession, with its high performers and rigorous demands, can exacerbate feelings of imposter syndrome. Lawyers, particularly those new to the field, may experience performance anxiety and a lack of confidence. If you've changed practice areas part way through your career, then there can be a 'catching up' aspect that creates the imposter feeling. The high standards and expectations can make even the most accomplished professionals feel like they don't belong.

In law firms, the structure often categorises employees into "lawyers" and "non-lawyers," which can make legal administrators and other support staff feel undervalued and insecure about their roles and how they fit into the overall team culturally. Additionally, the competitive and high-pressure environment typical of legal work can intensify self-doubt among even seasoned legal staff.

Identifying the Types of Imposter Syndrome

According to Dr. Valerie Young, an expert on imposter syndrome, there are five primary types:

• The Perfectionist: Believes that unless they were absolutely perfect, they could have done better. Their perfectionistic traits make them believe they're not as good as others perceive them to be.

• The Expert: Feels like an imposter because they don't know everything about a particular subject or haven't mastered every step in a process.

• The Natural Genius: Feels like a fraud because they don't believe they are naturally intelligent or competent. If they don't get something right the first time or it takes longer to master a skill, they feel inadequate.

• The Soloist: Questions their competence because they needed help to reach a certain level or status.

• The Superperson: Believes they must be the hardest worker or achieve the highest levels of success, and if they don't, they are a fraud.

Specific signs of Imposter Syndrome in Legal Professionals are:

• Overworking to cover up feelings of inadequacy, leading to poor time management.

• Downplaying one's knowledge, abilities, or skills, and seeking external validation through certifications and diplomas.

• Perfectionism, constantly checking and rechecking work to ensure it is flawless.

• Seeking mentors and constant feedback to feel competent.

• Comparing oneself to others, feeling pressure to be the best.

• Lack of confidence in showing accomplishments or contributing ideas.

• Struggling with pressure and underperforming in high-stakes situations.

• Viewing the world in extremes, seeing oneself as either the best or the worst.

• People-pleasing behavior, focusing on meeting others' expectations for validation.

Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome in the Legal Profession

1. Share your feelings: Talk to others about how you are feeling. Irrational beliefs tend to fester when hidden.

2. Focus on others: Help others who might be in the same situation. Practicing your skills and helping others can build your confidence.

3. Assess your abilities: Make a realistic assessment of your abilities. Write down your accomplishments and compare them with your self-assessment.

4. Take baby steps: Focus on doing things reasonably well rather than perfectly. Reward yourself for taking action.

5. Question your thoughts: Evaluate whether your thoughts are rational. Does it make sense to believe you are a fraud given everything you know?

6. Stop comparing: Avoid comparing yourself to others. Focus on listening and engaging genuinely in conversations.

7. Use social media moderately: Overuse of social media can lead to feelings of inferiority. Presenting an unrealistic image can worsen feelings of being a fraud.

8. Accept your feelings: Acknowledge your feelings of not belonging. Acceptance can help unravel the core beliefs holding you back.

9. Refuse to let it hold you back: Pursue your goals despite feeling like a fraud. Keep moving forward and refuse to be stopped.

Remember, you've been hired or offered a role for a reason. Your skills and achievements are valid and deserve recognition. Embrace your success, and don't let imposter syndrome hold you back. As expert legal recruiters, the team here at CoLegal can help you find a workplace where you can thrive. Give one of our team a call.