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Spring 2017

In a field of extroverts, we should make room for the quiet voices

By Professor Heidi K. Brown

Legal education and law practice tend to impel introverts to act like extroverts. Quiet law students and attorneys—either introverts or individuals who experience anxiety about perceived judgment in adversarial exchanges—can experience heightened stress levels, feeling that they must fake or force extroverted behavior to “cut it” in the legal profession. However, research indicates that introverted, shy, and socially anxious individuals are often extremely effective attorneys. Many quiet individuals are active listeners, methodical thinkers, creative problem solvers, empathic counselors, thoughtful writers, and influential communicators when ready to speak. Legal education and practice would benefit from acknowledging the gifts that quiet individuals offer our profession.

Much has been written about introversion in recent years as it relates to other professions, but the power of quietude in the law is a newer concept that is just beginning to get attention. In 2016, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and the ABA Journal hosted a webinar discussing the potential impact of introversion in the legal profession. Although public speaking anxiety is not often overtly addressed in legal environments, in 2016, Professor Carrie Teitcher and I held a workshop for more than 30 attorneys, from associates to senior partners, during a Women’s Leadership Initiative meeting at Pryor Cashman, focusing in part on the underlying drivers of public speaking anxiety and how to approach legal communications with strength and purpose.

At Brooklyn Law School, oral advocacy anxiety workshops held by the Legal Writing Program during the spring semester in advance of the 1L oral argument assignment help students who need support in managing mental and physical manifestations of trepidation during legal exchanges. These students are deeply committed to their legal studies and many are fantastically strong legal writers. They invest significant, substantive preparation in every law-based intellectual encounter. Through the workshops, we acknowledge that law-related performance-driven experiences can indeed be more nerve-wracking for some advocates than others, and then emphasize that this does not mean these lawyers are not cut out for the practice of law.

The next step is to help quiet lawyers assess whether they naturally process complex legal concepts internally before sharing them aloud, or whether their reticence in performance-oriented events is stoked by a deep-seated fear of judgment that is heightened in the law context. Upon review, quiet individuals often discover that their internal soundtracks are playing outdated messages from previous experiences laced with criticism that no longer has any relevance in their new legal personas. Often, they also find that they instinctively take a self-protective physical stance, cutting off vital energy, blood, and oxygen flow.

By acknowledging this and focusing on the positive attributes of introverted lawyers, teachers and mentors can help them reframe their mental focus and tap into their authentic voices. I teach current and future advocates how to step into each performance event with an intentionally balanced physical stance so that, like athletes, they can perform at peak levels. Post-event reflections also assist quiet advocates in adjusting their individual approach. Through this intentionally incremental process, quiet law students and lawyers are not practicing “just do it” or “fake it till you make it” techniques, but rather are purposefully and genuinely amplifying their lawyer voices, reducing naturally reactive anxiety, and enhancing the impact of their speech.

All lawyers must be able to converse about the law and interact with clients, colleagues, and decision makers with vigor. However, our profession should not gloss over the palpable stress ignited in introverted, shy, and socially anxious individuals when they are thrust into performance-oriented events without sufficient context and guidance. These individuals often fear coming forward and asking for help, thinking that introversion or nervousness connotes weakness. Working together, we can change that misperception.

Professor Heidi K. Brown is associate professor of law and director of the Legal Writing Program at Brooklyn Law School. She is a former litigator in the construction industry, and a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law. Having struggled with extreme public speaking anxiety and the perceived pressure to force an extroverted persona throughout law school and nearly two decades of law practice, she finally embraced her introversion and quiet nature as a powerful asset in teaching and practicing law. She is a prolific author on this topic. Her works include The Introverted Lawyer: A Seven-Step Journey Toward Authentically Empowered Advocacy (Ankerwycke Books 2017) and a two-volume legal writing book series, The Mindful Legal Writer (Aspen Law and Business 2016).