Don’t Litigate with your Trolls

This is what’s inside your head. Honest.


As a litigation lawyer, I’ve been trained to think in a particular way. So have you. In fact, irrespective of the area of law in which you practice, you approach problem-solving using a particular set of skills, techniques, and methods that have been drilled into you throughout law school and subsequently throughout legal practice.

But despite what we might tell ourselves, the reality is that the method we adopt for problem-solving is not always the correct one.  In particular, our methods do not work on ourselves.

Where the Wild Things Are – Inside your Head

There are lots of trolls available these days. Some of them are on the Internet. Others will attack you more directly. However, as Seth Godin has pointed out recently, the worst troll of all is the one inside your own head:

The trolls inside

The worst troll is in your head. Internet trolls are the commenters begging for a fight, the anonymous critics eager to tear you down, the hateful packs of roving evil dwarves, out for amusement. But the one in your head,…

But it’s not because of what this troll says that it is particularly pervasive. Rather, it is because you cannot approach this troll with your normal lawyer’s attitude to problem-solving.

The troll inside your head cannot be reasoned with. You cannot use persuasion, argument, logic, witnesses or evidence to change the mind of your personal troll.

Trolls for Lawyers

In legal practice the troll comes up in a number of ways. It tells you that you are too junior to do anything of consequence. It tells you that you need to ask somebody the answer, even though you know what they will say. The troll is what tells you that you need to stay late at the office or you will get fired.

The troll is the part of you that wants you to succumb to fear (it’s OK to be afraid – that’s no the issue – the issue is what you do in response to fear), to take no risks, to avoid standing out. And the troll has been well fed throughout your university education by a series of lessons in conformity, examinations where your status depends upon your grades, and where no points are gained by trying to change the status quo.

Don’t Reason with The Troll

So how do you deal with the troll, if you cannot resort to the lawyers tactic of simply litigating with it?

Much like trying to persuade an irrational opponent, engaging with the troll will only infuriate it all the more. The arguments will become louder, more brash, and more ultimately destructive. The troll can always shout louder than you can and it will never tire of the argument. It cannot be persuaded to change its point of view, because it is you. The troll has already taken everything you might say into account.

Turn Your Back

There is only one way to deal with trolls, whether on the Internet inside your head. You need to walk away. Any other move or waste your time, your energy and will ultimately be destructive.

The best way to silence the trouble is to achieve what it told you could not be achieved. It is to stand out and to survive the experience all the stronger. It is to take risks, fail, and get up again.

The troll will always be there. But it is only if you acknowledge it, engage with it and argue with it that the troll can have any influence of your life.

Instead, continue on with your project, your mission, your work. And succeed where the troll told you that you could not.

Happy Lawyering!