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Authenticity matters in the legal profession and here is why

Opinion Piece by Legal Counsel, and thought leader, Sarah Ouis. 

In an era where personal branding is on the rise, where people across social media open up about their vulnerabilities; why would lawyers’ exceptionalism prevail? Would it even be in their benefit to do so? What if it was about time for lawyers to be themselves? How could they battle against the ridicule, violently opposed stages and reach the self-evidence of authenticity? Why would lawyers even want that?

What if this quote from Arthur Schopenhauer could be applied to finding our true self in an industry where one must fit the mould: the legal industry?

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Being authentic, being our own self, can turn out to be problematic, where our personality does not tick the boxes of the industry standards. Being professional in our industry can easily be assimilated to being traditional; constantly serious if not boring. As if being subject to a certain code of conduct or standards would eradicate any possibility of being different.

Why is now the time for lawyers to be themselves?

It can be argued that lawyers fear being authentic for a few reasons: 

  • Their clients may have expectations about how a lawyer should be and therefore being different could lead to them losing business. 
  • They could also miss out on career opportunities by not fitting the bill. 

As valid as these reasons can be, we can fortunately see things changing. People have been opening up about the need for the legal profession to evolve and adapt. The development of new players in the industry are disrupting the landscape of legal services, fostering the need for innovation and a more customer centric approach. With that in mind, could we consider challenging the way lawyers are generally perceived? Could we consider asking clients about their expectations and whether bringing an authentic touch could actually be valued? 

To quote Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot:

“Many companies have forgotten they sell to actual people. Humans care about the entire experience, not just marketing or sales or service. To really win in the modern age, you must solve for humans”

If the delivery of traditional services did not historically account for the importance of the end user’s experience, then for lawyers to demonstrate their true human selves would already be a start towards a more customer friendly approach. Lawyers are typically great problem solvers and use their creativity for that particular purpose. That’s what they usually get paid for. Incorporating their own personality into the services they already provide would only take the service delivered to another level.

The reason being that people do business with people. We see it in our everyday lives. We give a tip to a waiter in a restaurant (where going to a restaurant was still a thing!) for  great customer service, but also where the waiter showed his personality traits. People want to connect with people they can trust, building a sustainable network implies connecting in such a way that is meaningful. Whether for business development or networking purposes, putting on a different persona is just not sustainable. If you feel trapped into being in an environment where you must show another version of yourself, then it may well be that you have not found the right place for you (yet!).

We all belong somewhere, and we must find where we belong

A few years back, I was interviewed for a Legal Counsel role and one of the areas I was recommended to improve was my ‘professionalism’. The recruiter surely had valid points and I was too junior to be able to self-reflect. Looking back, I realised that the company’s culture was just not a fit for my personality.  The legal team was very traditional and clearly this was not the type of environment where I could have evolved.

Cultural fit was probably less talked about a few years ago and being professional and traditional in our industry used to be the same thing. However, the rise of alternative legal service providers, legal tech companies and even law firms showcasing a different approach to legal services in the likes of Stephenson Law have opened opportunities for lawyers to look for an environment where they can be themselves, if they are different to the traditional mould.

Whether we work in-house or in private practice, we belong to an environment that would welcome our authentic selves because this is how we can also perform better.

Better performance and fulfilment

Steve Jobs once said:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Can you imagine an environment where you would not have to think twice before showcasing who you are as an individual and what makes you, you! Can you picture yourself not worried about speaking up, suggesting ideas, agreeing, and disagreeing, opening up about your vulnerabilities?

Now, try to picture an environment where you have to put your work hat on, an environment where as soon as you (virtually) enter the office, you would leave half of yourself behind, trying to conform to the culture, mirroring your colleagues’ attitude, not being able to speak up about things that bother you. Which one of the two feels more liberating and fulfilling?

Being in an environment that supports your authenticity will help you strive in a professional setting. This has been researched by Google during the Project Aristotle which emphasized the importance of an authentic workplace to create “psychological safety” in teams’ performance. If being authentic matters, being part of an environment that supports it will allow you to better perform. If you perform better, this should in turn lead to greater confidence in your work and fulfilment in the workplace.

The legal industry needs it

The legal industry has long suffered from an archaic reputation. Lawyers are still often associated with being expensive folks, who are paid to just push papers around. There is so much more we offer the world as an industry and profession. Being ourselves, letting people know about our struggles in law school, finding a training contract, the complexity of what we do, and the risk aversion mindset ingrained in our way of working surely cannot do us any injustice. And after all, we are human!

It is about time for the era of the human lawyers to shine.


About the author

Sarah Ouis is an in-house legal counsel and legal content creator. She produces innovative legal content on social media, @verylawyerproblems. She is on a mission to contribute to a more user centric approach to the delivery of legal services. Sarah is a guest contributor for InView where she shares her thoughts, ideas and experience about being a in-house lawyer.

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