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Lessons from Behavioral Science: The Power of Confidence, Part 1

July 19, 2011

Last week, the blog shifted from wide-ranging discussion of the legal job market’s ongoing woes (especially in BigLaw) to a discussion of solutions for young lawyers to this problem. Today’s advice is superficially very simple: be confident.

Behavioral science research shows that confidence can be at least as important as accuracy when seeking to win over others. Yet, many lawyers are strongly risk averse, both by nature and training, and perhaps even to a fault at times. We generally prefer not to make bold assertions, which not only can sacrifice total accuracy and gloss over nuance but also pose the risks of taking a no-hedge, no-qualification position. As a result, we often look at bold, unapologetic peers with admiration. Indeed, many of us entered the profession because they regarded it as a safe career route, and look upon colleagues-cum-entrepreneurs as heroes we wish we had the chutzpah to emulate. As Chaucer famously observed: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Of course, being more confident is more easily said than done—whether we are selling ourselves in a job interview or a client meeting, promoting a client’s interests in business deal talks, or advocating for a client in court, settlement negotiations or ADR. Sometimes, it is a matter of going with your instincts and not over-thinking. But, often we have to cultivate good instincts through deliberate repetition. One resource for that process is the recent ABA Journal podcast “Shy Lawyer’s Guide to Becoming a Rainmaker.” Although addressed to attorneys seeking to build a book of business, it is broadly applicable to every aspect of professional development mentioned above, from selling yourself to advocating for a client. For example, its discussion of networking to build business is directly relevant to networking in support of job hunting.

In upcoming posts, I will share additional behavioral science research on the benefits (and pitfalls) of confidence, as well as my tips for enhancing personal confidence in the professional arena.

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