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Forget Spiders and Heights, Here's What Really Frightens Lawyers

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on November 06, 2015 5:59 AM

Flying? Blood? Snakes and spiders? None of them keep lawyers up at night. When it comes to lawyerly fears, classic phobias are nowhere to be found. Instead, attorneys stay up all night with severe performance anxiety. According to the ABA Journal's list of lawyers' most common fears, attorneys are worried about courts, colleagues, and even "seeming 'too nice.'"

Take a Klonopin, lawyers. You seem stressed out.

Afraid of Appearing Weak, Afraid of Appearing Nice

John Lande, a law professor at the University of Missouri, surveyed attorneys on their most common fears, which the ABA Journal turned into a 32-point listicle.

Those fears tend to fall into a few broad categories. Attorneys, for all the litigating they may do, are afraid of being judged. Being blamed, looking foolish, appearing weak, appearing nice, and being outsmarted all made the list. Other fears were based on work performance. Lawyers were afraid that they lacked skill and confidence, afraid of making tactical errors and afraid of incorrectly valuing cases. That seems fair enough. No one likes to fail at their job and those who are the least worried about making mistakes are probably the very people who make the most of them.

Litigators had their own special set of fears. These attorneys were scared of being intimidated by judges, suffering reprisals for reporting judicial misconduct, and being judged unfairly by jurors.

And finally, there were the lawyers who were afraid of silence. There's a term for that: sedatephobia.

Dealing With Fear

The ABA Journal's list is more depressing than frightening. But the results shouldn't be surprising. Many successful professionals worry that they are under-qualified or about to make some terrible mistake. There's a term for that as well: the imposter syndrome. The term was coined by two American psychologists to describe the sense of "phoniness in people who believe they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement."

But fear can be a motivator. Professor Lande, whose research the ABA Journal's list was based off, suggests using fear to energize yourself. "There is a sense of being in adversarial combat," Lande says. "You're dealing with an enemy that's shooting back and you have to anticipate their moves and strategies."

The metaphor is apt. Attorneys' fears are similar to those identified by military researches, Lande says. They can be handled in similar ways, through training, simulation, realistic goal setting, and mental rehearsals. A little prep, some stress-management, and a positive outlook can help turn your fears into something that's empowering, rather than debilitating.

But whatever you do, stay away from spiders.

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