Lawyers are a competitive bunch, and this competitive spirit is stoked and encouraged before aspiring lawyers even enter law school. Prospective law students are told to obtain the best undergraduate grade point average and will spend considerable money to obtain the best possible LSAT score and get into the most prestigious school.

This competitive drive continues during law school, where at many schools, students’ grades are determined by how well they perform compared to their peers. Even after graduating, students compete for positions at prestigious firms and for accolades that will distinguish them from other lawyers.

Competition can be a good thing, inspiring you to be the best advocate that you can be for your clients and community. But dwelling on the activities of your peers and competitors, and noting how you measure up in comparison, could lead to depression and burnout.

How to Stop Comparing and Start Practicing

Given the many ways in which competitiveness and comparisons to others are encouraged even before you start law school, it is easy to see why some lawyers evaluate their success by comparing themselves to their competition. 

For these lawyers, their sense of self-worth, both as an attorney and as a person, is dependent on the feeling that they are surpassing their competitors.

There is a better way to practice law, one that is more sustainable and that unties the definition of success from what others are doing and links it to you and your practice instead. By employing the following suggestions, you will maintain longevity in the practice of law and find fulfillment in helping your clients.

Focus on Doing the Right Thing

Instead of focusing on winning a bigger settlement than your competitor or landing a more prestigious client, simply seek to do the right thing. The “right thing” involves treating your clients with dignity and respect, being honest with them about their cases, and putting in the time necessary to represent them well in and out of court.

The “right thing” entails admitting to errors when they happen and working quickly to mitigate the damage they can do. It requires you to look out for the well-being and reputation of your client, preventing them from creating legal or ethical peril for themselves.

Doing the “right thing” can be difficult and initially unpopular. But clients and competitors alike will respect the lawyer who pursues the right course of action in every circumstance. Your reputation as a lawyer who does the right thing is invaluable.

Be the Best at What You Do

Your primary competition should be yourself: you should strive each day to be a better lawyer and better person than you were the day before. 

Every lawyer has strengths and weaknesses. If you try to be better than your competitor, you may develop their strengths but also adopt their flaws. This doesn’t make you a better lawyer — it just gives you a new set of strengths and weaknesses.

Instead, evaluate yourself, identify your weak areas, and work on strengthening them. If you lack negotiation skills, for example, consider taking an in-depth, practical continuing education course. If you feel you need help marketing your firm better, there is no shortage of resources to help you overcome this.

You shouldn’t neglect your strengths, either. Look at those areas in which you excel and find ways to challenge yourself even further. Your strengths can also provide you with the motivation needed to improve on your weak points.

Basketball player and coach (the “Wizard of Westwood”) John Wooden said it best: “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

Keep Family and Those You Love First

You should not neglect the most meaningful and intimate relationships in your life. In the end, those people who are closest to you — and how you touched their lives — will mean the most. Your significant other, your children, your family, and your closest friends will be the ones who are there when you need them most.

Some lawyers might make the mistake of thinking that there will be time to focus on these important relationships later. But prioritizing these relationships throughout your legal career can help you remain grounded and ensure you are surrounded by individuals who can support you and give you much-needed perspective.

Take Time for Fun

Remaining a well-rounded individual means having hobbies and leisurely interests. These pursuits serve the added benefit of relieving stress and can remind you that there is more to life than chasing the next big settlement or keeping up with your competition. 

Additionally, according to Forbes and others, taking a break from work and engaging in play helps boost your overall productivity.

Pay Attention to Your Mental Health

The conventional wisdom that says lawyers have an extraordinarily high risk of mental health concerns may be inaccurate. A recent study conducted at Yale University by a law professor and law student found that lawyers experience mental illness at rates similar to or less than the general population. 

This finding does not mean, however, that lawyers are immune from depression, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health concerns.

Consider taking a mental health inventory of yourself every so often. Ask how you feel and how you have been feeling lately. While everyone feels down and stressed from time to time, prolonged periods of feeling blue, overworked, unmotivated, or stressed may indicate it is time to speak with someone. 

Think about speaking with a trusted friend or mentor if you are not prepared to contact a counselor right away. Many state bar associations also have free or low-cost resources to assist lawyers who need to talk about work-related or personal issues impacting their well-being.

It can be difficult to stop comparing yourself with others, but focusing on improving yourself and finding a work-life balance that makes sense for you is crucial to long-term success in the legal field.

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