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The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

Seeing Around Corners

One of the best compliments that I ever received when I was practicing law was that I had the ability to ‘see around corners,’ meaning that I was often able to predict where problems were going to arise out of a proposed course of action. That comes with general knowledge, thoughtfulness, experience, and a healthy (or unhealthy?) dose of paranoia.  

Speaking of paranoia, some years ago I underwent one of those psychological assessments, where you answer a whole bunch of questions, and the computer tells you whether or not you are crazy (something that your loved ones can do without the testing.)

The good news was that I scored ‘normal’ in every category, which I am sure would have surprised at least a few of my law partners as well as my ex-wife and maybe my kids. 

The bad news was that I was just barely ‘normal’ under the criteria for paranoia. This proved to be a very useful revelation for me, because when my head started spinning about an issue on a file or in my personal life, I was often able to sit back and tell myself that it was just my paranoid streak asserting itself, and then refocus on what was really likely to happen.

So, I could see around corners, which was a good thing, and I was slightly paranoid, which was a bad thing.

I have often wondered what came first. Did my tendency toward paranoia make me a better lawyer, or did my legal education and practice as a lawyer make me paranoid?

Now, while I can hardly claim that prior to law school I was a happy go lucky, glass mostly full type of guy, I do think that being a lawyer came first.  And second. And maybe third. 

An important component of practicing law is about assessing and managing risk, and before you can do that you have to be able to identify it. We lawyers spend an awful lot of time thinking about what can go wrong. I suspect that happy people do not think that way. 

I also expect that this way of thinking tends to embed itself in your brain, and not in a good way.

When you can see around corners, you are likely to be wrong much more often than you are right, because of all of the bad things that you predict, most of them will never actually happen. All of that focus on negativity can creep into your personal life.

Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”  

I recommend that everyone spend some time thinking about how their work lives influence their way of thinking and whether they have to make some changes to stay sane, or to be heathy, or to be happy. (By the way, I never succeeded at that, but there is no reason that you should not give it a try.)

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