Work to your Strengths – Part 1

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to operating within our strengths and weaknesses.  There are those who think that if we work really hard we can overcome our weaknesses and therefore are able to achieve whatever we put our minds to.  On the other hand, there are those who believe that we were made with particular strengths for a particular purpose, and that our best bet is to work to those strengths and try to minimise the impact, so far as possible, of our weaknesses.

The first argument certainly has some attractive qualities.  It is usually accompanied by an inspirational story of some kind.  Person X faced issue Y and overcame it by doing A, B and C.  You, too, can achieve whatever your heart desires if you also try A, B and C.

I don’t agree with the first argument at all.  The problem is this: outside some inspirational stories from time to time, the first argument is demonstrably incorrect in the lives of almost everyone.  There are some things that individuals are now, and always will be, rubbish at.  For them, trying to do some tasks is like fresh cream trying not to turn into butter while it gets whipped.  It’s going to turn out the same way every time, no matter what the cream does to the contrary.

I am firmly in the second camp.

With that all in mind I wanted to offer a short series looking at some particular strengths and weaknesses of lawyers.  In each post I will take a look at one strength and one weakness of lawyers in day to day practice.  After a few of those I’m going to take a look at some specific ways we can identify and utilise our strengths in practice, and seek to minimise the impact of our weaknesses.

Let me know if any of these sound like you – I’ll be honest and tell you which ones I think sound like me!

Strength – Analysis

This is pretty common in lawyers.  Whether we started with it or developed it is moot – many lawyers (not all) have this strength.  This is the ability to take apart a problem and assess its component parts for issues.  What we find is that lawyers with this talent enjoy getting into a fact scenario, in looking at its pieces and in really considering each aspect of a factual and legal problem.

People with this strength in practice often work well alone rather than in teams, because they need to go through their own method of working through a problem.  That doesn’t mean that they are introverts – but when problem solving it’s best to leave them to their own devices.

The downside of the analyst is that they are frequently caught up in the minutiae of a matter.  It can become a bit of a “can’t see the forest for the trees” issue, as the analyst looks at the detail to the detriment of the bigger picture.  Analysts might frequently benefit from the ability to step back a bit, take a deep breath, and considering the overall goals.

Weakness – Egotism

In a sense this is a character issue, but it is one that lawyers often display.  I’m not talking about arrogance (although many would suggest that’s an issue too).  Egotism when I talk about it here is the tendency to always adopt a position which is relevant only to the individual, rather than to others.  It comes out in client interviews, where lawyers want to leap in to providing the legal solution, whereas the client was really concerned with telling their story in full before being interrupted.  It comes out in writing letters where lawyers insist on using archaic terms for not particular reason, or long winded phrases which could be expressed more succinctly (yes – I’ve done it myself).  It also comes out in staff meetings and team work where the only concern the lawyer has is for their own priorities, their own urgent tasks, and their own desire to get things done.  In senior lawyers it comes out where they refuse to give the necessary time to delegating or supervising properly.

Egotism in lawyers, unfortunately, has often been a quality which has allowed the lawyer to build up their career from the beginning.  With sole practitioners and lawyers who have built up personal practices, they often did so through a strong sense of self, because egotism is often accompanied by confidence (generally a positive attribute).  However, as their teams grow or they move into an environment requiring more widespread cooperation, what were positives initially can start to detract from the team’s ability to operate.

Those are my two for today.  More to come.

Are you an egotist? (OK I don’t really expect you to answer that).  Or perhaps do you have strong analytical skills?  How do you use them to the benefit of your clients?  Let me know in the comments.

Happy lawyering!

  • Really good article Chris. I think the legal profession, by its nature, makes attorneys feel they shouldn’t admit to being unable to do something. This makes a lot of lawyers fall into the “second camp” that you mentioned. Hopefully more can recognize these traits in themselves and focus on their strengths – which is far more productive.

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