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    10.16.17 Professor Heidi K. Brown on the Gifts of Introversion for Lawyers
    Heidi Brown

    In her new book, The Introverted Lawyer: A Seven-Step Journey Toward Authentically Empowered Advocacy, Professor Heidi K. Brown, director of the legal writing program, argues that the introverted lawyer – and law student – has much to offer to a profession dominated by extroverts.

    Professor Brown discussed the book and some of her strategies for managing anxiety and shyness as a law student and lawyer with Brooklyn Law Notes Managing Editor Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips.

    What was the impetus for writing this book?

    I was definitely the quiet law student in law school, and I thought I was the only one. I thought I could just force myself to become an extrovert, which was very painful and stressful. I just kept trying to will myself to be confident, using that “just do it” or “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality. I did that for 15 years. Many times certain mentors suggested that maybe I should go do something else with my life if the anxiety was so overwhelming, but I made a good living and I enjoyed the research and writing aspect of my job. I didn’t want to quit. I had invested a lot in my legal education and practice. I thought I was just being weak. I didn’t realize I could actually do it my quiet way until I started teaching at Chapman University School of Law in California. Noticing similar anxiety in my quiet students, I thought, if I could do anything to help these 1Ls avoid 15 years of stress, I should.

    At first my research started off as an article—The Silent But Gifted Law Student, published in 2012. In my research, I learned that basically everything I had been told to do was not helpful, and I started learning how to be helpful to others going through the same thing I had. I learned about the physical things I did that made my anxiety worse—crossing my legs and arms, closing up, and making myself small. Also, many of us have this negative soundtrack in our heads, and that combined with the physical manifestations can be debilitating.

    No one had written about introversion in the legal profession, so I felt this issue needed to be discussed. I wrote the book to describe challenges that people face in legal education and law practice as well as the amazing attributes quiet people bring to our profession, such as good listening, empathy, and methodical writing.

    What are some of the strategies you share in the book?

    I share seven steps for acknowledging and managing introversion and anxiety in law practice while remaining authentic to yourself. They are: reflecting mentally to identify the negative or unhelpful soundtrack messages in your mind; realizing the limiting things you’re doing physically to close off energy, blood, and oxygen flow; reframing the unhelpful “fake it ‘til you make it” mantra into an action plan to flip that message; creating a physical action plan such as exercising to deal with stress, and opening up and uncrossing legs and arms, and adopting a balanced open stance in a performance moment; identifying a range of events from least to most anxiety producing to start practicing effective mental and physical techniques; coming up with an action plan for each anxiety-producing event; and reflecting on each event and realizing you have survived and succeeded.

    When I have an event, I identify in advance what specific aspects make me anxious and why, realize what I can control and what I can’t, and focus on my mental and physical game plan. This process works for me, and I’ve seen it work in my students, too. But it’s not a quick fix—I started researching this book eight years ago, and I still have to apply these techniques every day.

    Have you been surprised by the response to this approach among students?

    When I post flyers for anxiety workshops in advance of a specific event like oral arguments, I’ll have a lot of students sign up, and it’s often mostly women and diverse students.

    However, students in my own classes whom I thought should go to the workshops didn’t come. There’s still, for sure, a stigma surrounding quietude as a weakness, especially in the legal profession. My whole platform is that the legal profession can benefit from quiet thinkers, writers, and problem-solvers. 

    What do you hope teachers take away from the book?

    I’ve been really happy that several teachers who have been teaching law for a long time have been really open to learning about this issue. Some have invited me to come speak to their classes because they haven’t personally had this experience, but they want me to come talk to their students about it for a few minutes at the beginning of a semester. Just opening up a simple dialogue can go a long way. I really want professors who feel strongly that class participation should be graded to say out loud to students, “I get that this is going to be harder for some of you than others, and I’m going to create an environment in the classroom where I’m not going to shame you if you’re nervous.” If professors are open to students coming to office hours and saying they are prepared but nervous and want to work with them, that could really change the way we teach and the way law students learn.

    Listen to the BLS Library Podcast with Professor Brown

    Watch the book launch event for The Introverted Lawyer 


    Listen to an interview with Professor Brown on the WellnessCast