Women in law: three ways to build resilience

Over the past ten years lawyers have experienced a fundamental change to the way they practise law. With increased billable hours, pressure from clients, work volume, all set against an uncertain backdrop of mergers and restructuring, the need to be emotionally resilient has never been stronger, including associates facing significant competition to be promoted to partnership.

What is resilience? Put simply, it’s the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. Although some colleagues appear to have a more natural ability to bounce back than others, the good news is, resilience can be learned. It’s about having the right mindset, perseverance, and making sure you have the right support in place.

Three ways to build resilience

Over thirteen years I’ve coached a number of women facing significant change to their working and personal lives; many have found the following approaches effective.

Change your relationship with stress

Challenge is what attracts most lawyers to the profession and, with that, comes difficult and stressful situations. Some stress is necessary to keep a sharp mind and remain engaged with complex cases; it’s neither possible nor desirable to eliminate stress from work. Remember, stress is a natural part of life and learn to see it as an ally.

build resilience
Emma Spitz

Of course some events are highly stressful and while you can’t change the fact that they happen, you can change how you react to them. A flexible mindset, or accepting what you can’t change and focusing on what you can influence, will prevent you from seeing a crisis as an insurmountable problem.

Our brains are hardwired to trigger a flight or fight response to stressful situations, which is useful in life threatening situations, less so when having difficult conversations with clients or opposing lawyers. It’s possible to calm the stress response enabling clear and rational thinking through controlled breathing. Try taking eleven deep breaths over a minute.

Longer term, “mindfulness” techniques have been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and stress and calm overactive minds. There are plenty of apps you can download that offer exercises to develop mindfulness. Several of my clients rate the HeadSpace app.

Make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out

Lawyers have an aptitude for problem solving, often enhanced by excellent communication skills. Use these to take decisive action rather than detaching completely from problems and hoping they will go away. Break the problem down into small steps and do something each day, however small, that moves you closer to your goal rather than focusing on tasks that seem unachievable.

I ask my coachees: “What one thing, do you know you can accomplish today, that will help you move in the direction you want to go?” Taking action will help you to feel more in control and optimistic. Persevere and trust in your ability to find a way around obstacles.

Look after yourself

Resilience can be undermined by working frequent all-nighters, over use of convenience food, lack of exercise and above all neglecting relationships with family and friends, all of which deplete emotional reserves.

Our ability to deal with change and a demanding environment is impacted by our physical and mental state. Take time to eat well, exercise and spend time with family and friends. Your support network is critical for strong mental health. Friends and family can challenge your perspective, contribute to a positive view of yourself and build confidence in your strengths and abilities.

Use these tips to build resilience and you’ll develop the skills to increase your ability to not just survive but thrive in demanding situations, over the lifetime of your career.

Emma Spitz is a director at the Executive Coaching Consultancy. She has over thirteen years experience advising City law firms and coaching female lawyers on their career development.