Impostor syndrome – woman lawyer version

Mark Bennett wrote a post in November that has stayed in my mind ever since. You should go and read it even if you aren’t a lawyer because I think it captures the essence of the human condition: We humans are most insecure in those things which others around us think we do so well. Basically, Mark (who is taking from a post written by Keith Lee) says that having this lack of assurance in ourselves is a good thing, that because we don’t want to be discovered as frauds, we work harder to cover it up. Voila! It’s brilliant.

Today, like most days, I come to the office and the thoughts I have are “make sure I don’t screw anything up” and I know I can’t be alone in this. There are those of you out there with your schtick of suck it up, do your job, I am a tough guy gal, do it all and don’t complain because who cares anyway and now your jig is up – we know you are as full of doubt and fear as any one of us who put it out there that we are full of doubt and fear.

(The thing about a lot of lawyers though, is that they don’t discuss how insecure they are. Because who wants to hire an insecure lawyer? I don’t think anyone who has chimed in on this is talking about lawyers (or PR people or moms or whatever) who are wishy-washy or actually outwardly inept or don’t know basic procedure. They are talking about the internal mechanism that actually compels and drives you to not suck at what you do. Some call it ambition. And maybe we can re-characterize it that way. But the truth is, it’s just not wanting anyone else to know that we don’t know. So we make sure they don’t know.)

The thing is, though, that Mark says this impostor syndrome is obvious to him when dealing with successful male criminal defense lawyers. I don’t know why that is. Is it because he doesn’t want to speak for people who are not like him? Does he not speak with female criminal defense lawyers in ‘truth-telling mode’ to find out how they feel about what they do and how they conduct themselves? Or, is it because he just doesn’t know enough successful female criminal defense lawyers?

I can only speak for myself. I don’t know how he defines truth-telling, or success. Maybe it’s money or law review articles or some other such popular notion of success. Maybe it’s winning all of your cases or having a nice office and minions to do your bidding. Maybe I am not successful in that same way. I mean, I don’t think I am successful quite yet but I can tell you that successful male criminal defense lawyers don’t have the market cornered on this feeling. We clawing our way out of the bottom -high- middle of the heap female criminal defense lawyers are also looking to hide the fact that we are not successful male criminal defense lawyers and that we think people will find out. (!) So we try a little harder. We hold the client’s hand a little tighter and smile a little wider. We look up some extra cases and make sure our tabs are in order. Because if we fail it will be because we are just not up to the task and then everyone will know we are just trying to be like our male criminal defense lawyer counterparts.

And when we do win, when things go our way we do not think it was because of that extra that we did because we were lucky – this time.

 

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Posted in: Not Gulity No Way   |     |   3 Comments

3 Responses

  1. shg - January 9, 2014

    I don’t know too many successful women criminal defense lawyers. A few, but not too many. And I know a lot of criminal defense lawyers. So am I at fault or does fault lie elsewhere?

    A flaw in Bennett’s argument is that he refuses to consider that what he sees as the obvious “imposter syndrome” in others may be nothing more than interpreting their issues through his lens. We all have our faults, but they aren’t all the same even if it makes us more comfortable believing they are.

    So when you win, does your client feel better based on your gender? Mine don’t, but then, I don’t hold hands too tight. My preference is to keep my hands occupied doing lawyer-type stuff, and let someone more sensitive do the hand-holding. But that’s just me.

  2. Mirriam - January 9, 2014

    I don’t think they feel better based on my gender, but maybe they give a sigh of relief knowing that we won despite my gender. And I don’t know if it is a fault at all, it’s a question. What is the definition of success? Then the question is what are we women doing wrong? I have some ideas, but only some of them are things I can actually address. And, as far as doing lawyer things, I’m the mom of twins. I’ve got more hands than you.

  3. shg - January 9, 2014

    I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. You’re one of the successful women I know. Plus the twins.

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