Building professional confidence: why and how

How are you building professional confidence? And why is it critical for legal professionals to exude confidence in the firm and around the legal world?

Perhaps more than any other profession, the legal industry requires a certain degree of confidence. Want to convince a supervising attorney that you can handle a greater degree of responsibility? You’ll need confidence. Want to convince a client that your firm is the best one to handle their legal matter? You’ll need confidence. Want to convince a judge or jury that your client’s position is the right one? You’ll need a heavy dose of confidence.

Some legal professionals, however, exude too much confidence. You know the type – they generally speak over others in conversation, are never wrong, and consistently speak at a volume that is louder than necessary. Their confidence – which is possibly better described as cockiness – can be just as harmful to their careers as a complete lack of confidence.

This article explores why appropriate confidence matters so much in the legal profession, how such confidence can enhance your legal career, and some of the steps you can start taking today to build that confidence.

Why confidence matters in the legal industry

For lawyers and other legal professionals, confidence is critical. It unquestionably helps in your communications with others. More importantly, however, confidence is arguably required in order to fulfill one’s ethical obligations.  Lawyers (and those working with them) owe a duty of competence to clients, judicial officers, and each other. It is almost impossible to be competent without some degree of confidence.

Unfortunately, a fully-competent legal professional who cannot express ideas confidently will often be doubted. As such, it is critical that you honestly assess the true level of confidence you’re exhibiting on a daily basis. If needed, ask peers or mentors whether you come across as confident in your professional interactions. If the response is anything less than enthusiastic, it is probably time to start consciously working to improve this important skill.

As noted above, you should also be open to feedback suggesting that you come across as too confident. Whether fair or not, legal professionals already have a reputation for being smug, arrogant, and brash. Overconfidence only seeks to confirm that popular notion and can be harmful to your reputation and credibility.

How confidence enhances your legal career

According to some authorities, confidence in one’s legal career is synonymous with success. If you step back and think about it, the theory makes a great deal of sense.

Consider the example of two trial lawyers arguing a complex business case before a jury. One lawyer actually has a much stronger legal position but presents his arguments in a clumsy manner, stumbles over his own words when handling objections, refuses to look the judge or the jurors in the eye, and nervously taps his pen on the podium during the entire trial.

The other lawyer has a weaker case. Unlike her opponent, however, she speaks confidently to the court. Whenever the judge asks counsel a question, she is prepared with both legal and factual bases for her answer. She maintains good body language and eye contact throughout the proceeding.

If you were watching that trial over the course of a couple weeks, who would you pick to win? While you might agree with the first lawyer’s legal positioning, the truth is that the more confident lawyer is likely to win the case. The same can likely be said with respect to retaining new clients and being promoted within your firm. No matter what position you hold in your firm, if you appear confident, those around you will simply trust you more than if you present as insecure.

Steps to building professional confidence

Fortunately, there are many ways to improve your confidence quickly. Below are a few of our favorites:

  • Be prepared. Again, whether you’re talking to a colleague, a judge, or a client, your ability to explain the law and answer relevant questions without pause is paramount. You know what level of preparation it takes for you to feel confident. If you consistently aim for that standard, your confidence will continue to grow with each interaction.
  • Watch your body. Believe it or not, your posture can have an impact on your confidence level. During each professional interaction, try to remember to keep your shoulders back, head raised, and try to avoid slouching. Practice in front of the mirror at home and note how your most comfortable positions support or detract from conveying confidence. Then try out some new ways to stand, gesture, and talk.
  • Accentuate the positive. Finally, it is always helpful to surround yourself with positivity. There’s nothing like a harsh, critical person to ruin your confidence. Conversely, people who are happy and offer authentic praise can boost the confidence of the people around them. You know who those people are within your firm. Seek out the happy ones and see if they don’t have an impact on you over time.

Whatever you do, just make sure you continue to work on appropriate confidence throughout your career. It is a critical skill that can only make you more successful within the industry over time.

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