REUTERS | Molly Riley

Building your resilience, reputation and personal networks

Last week The Centre for Legal Leadership hosted the latest in its series of webinars in conjunction with Practical Law on building your resilience, reputation and personal networks. This post discusses the key themes that were covered during the session.

Building your resilience

Be intentional and deliberate about what you do and what you are interested in. You cannot do everything, so focus on the things that only you can do. Similarly, look at what only your team can do, what can be done by external counsel and what you should not be doing.

Learn how to say no. This will help you balance your workload and avoid overloading yourself. Although taking new opportunities can create new career paths, it’s important to avoid saying yes to everything and not always taking on work outside your remit.

Take the time to develop others. As they grow, they can take on some of the tasks that you previously performed. Developing your team members also helps you improve your mentoring, coaching and delegation skills.

Take time to reflect and think of this reflection time as an investment, rather than as time wasted. Also be honest about how you feel as your mood will inform how you think. Finally, resist the urge to be a perfectionist. Accept that you will have good and bad days.

Managing your stress and wellbeing

Working in the legal industry can be stressful, so it is essential that lawyers equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to help build resilience to avoid harmful stress. It’s important to know your limits so that, as one panellist put it, “you know how full your bucket is”. Recognising the signs of stress is crucial. These signs may include:

  • Poor sleep.
  • Increasing irritability.
  • Lack of focus.
  • An inability to relax and “switch off” from the job.

Seek help if you are struggling. For example, by speaking to:

  • An Employee Assistance Programme.
  • Mental health first aiders.
  • Your GP.
  • Work colleagues.

Outside interests can be a helpful way of maintaining your wellbeing but you may need to initially force yourself to take time away from the job.

For further information, see Practice note, Managing pressure to avoid harmful stress: the importance of self-awareness.

Managing your team’s stress and wellbeing

Developing an awareness of others’ behaviour is vital, particularly if you lead a team. It’s important to look out for any signs that members of your team are struggling. For example, changes in the way that they sound when you speak to them. Tension in someone’s voice can be an indication that they are stressed, although this has been more difficult to judge recently when everyone has been communicating via Zoom.

Although switching your camera off is a good way of avoiding Zoom fatigue, if someone’s camera is always off, it can be a sign that they are having problems. Other signs may include:

  • Missing meetings.
  • Poor feedback from clients.
  • Being quieter than normal.
  • Being distracted.

Ensure your team knows that taking time off is a good thing. Demonstrate that you are not “always on” by taking leave yourself. Sharing your own experiences of stress (for example, via a blog on the company’s intranet) can be powerful as it shows that you “know what it feels like”.

For further information, see Practice note, Workplace stress: six habits to help you meet your management responsibilities.

Developing your reputation

Legal is often regarded as the moral compass of an organisation, so be prepared to take a principled approach, stand up for what you believe in and be consistent in your advice. According to a panellist, “your reputation is what people say about you when you are not in the room”. You can control what you do when you are in the room by treating people well.

Avoid taking a transactional approach and make the effort to talk to your colleagues about things outside work. Forging professional relationships takes time but should be regarded as an investment. A short chat over coffee can pay dividends in the long-term as personal connections often make the hard times easier. It is often too late to develop a personal relationship during a crisis.

Some relationships require more effort than others. A panellist gave the example of a stakeholder who initially proclaimed their dislike of lawyers and would not take their advice. Eventually that same stakeholder would come to them for their views on a business problem.

Building a network

Avoid simply focusing on your job. Take control of your career and plan for the long-term. It’s important to build a network within the legal community so that you can use it when you need it (for example, when you are looking for a new position). Networks are difficult to build from scratch.

Your networks are likely to be diverse and bring together different aspects of your professional and personal life. For example, connections from:

  • School.
  • University.
  • Work.
  • Non-profit organisations.

The ubiquity of smartphones makes them a powerful networking tool and, despite its limitations, LinkedIn can be useful too. Be prepared to put yourself out there and reach out to others. Look for individuals with common interests and those that work in the same industry sector.

Mentors can be an excellent way of developing your network. Senior members of the legal community are often happy to share their experiences as a way of helping the next generation of lawyers.

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