How to build personal resilience: your strategy for success

How to build personal resilience: your strategy for success

By Fiona Westwood

The legal profession is facing continuous and disruptive change. It is difficult to predict with any certainty what the market will look like five years from now. The new entrants target particular areas of legal service provision that suits their business model. Clients will continue to demand more for less and new ways of accessing legal advice.

If the legal profession is to survive as an independent entity then it needs to build its resilience.

Why link resilience and future professional success?

Managing disruptive change challenges the resilience of everyone. The ability to cope with external pressures to improve service levels, reduce fee levels and move away from established ways of working and operating structures puts pressure on people in relation to their everyday practice. Stress is an all too common aspect of professional life and for lawyers in particular where dealing with conflict is an inherent part of our daily workload.

If we are to be able to respond positively to continuous and relentless changes we need to be able to learn and adapt. This means that we need to move out of our comfort zone and try out new ways of working. This may result in us making mistakes or taking longer to do something. None of this sits well in a culture where people are worried about job security and/or pressures to charge out and recover a high percentage of their time.

So to succeed in the future we need to develop confidence in ourselves and our skills and abilities. We also need to, in a much more overt way than in the past, take control over our own careers and future choices.

So how do we go about ensuring that we not only cope well with current pressures but also succeed in the long term?

  • We need to revisit what is important to us. Good professionals have to be true to themselves as so much of choosing a particular discipline is inherent and comes from who we are, what we believe in, what we care about, where our natural abilities lie and what we want to do for the rest of our (working) lives. It is essential to take some time out to remind ourselves what is important to us on the personal level and what we want to achieve in the long term.
  • We need to develop a clear plan of where we want to be five years from now. Professional careers are no longer linear and guaranteed, so it is now necessary to take control of our own future plans and aspirations and keep those in front of us. When we maintain this continued focus, we are able to see change in the context of what we want to achieve rather than as threatening.
  • We need to build up our reputation and credibility.The capacity to be trusted is a necessary part of being a professional as clients have to believe that we will do the “right thing” for them, regardless of self-interest, and professional colleagues to know that we will not let them down. As a result, we need to behave at all times in a way that is perceived by others as credible.
  • We need to develop good professional judgement. All lawyers need to be able to make decisions under considerable time pressure and often with incomplete information. As a result, we need to develop confidence in our own abilities and build our resilience to practice a “craft” where there is rarely a “right” answer, only the “best” answer for that particular situation.
  •  We need to take responsibility for ourselves. Good professionals will self-manage to a far higher standard than any quality process or appraisal process can impose upon them. Taking personal responsibility is an inherent part of our incremental professional development, a necessary part of our career progression and an essential skill for achieving work-life balance.

In summary, the benefits of working on developing our personal resilience are considerable. It allows us to build a career path for ourselves based on an understanding of who we are and what is important to us. It ensures that we will take personal responsibility where we have made an error of judgement and stand our ground against being blamed when the fault lies elsewhere. It encourages us to work well with other people and be good at team dynamics, focusing on being assertive rather than aggressive or passive. It enables us to move from being a novice professional to becoming an expert in our field, through permitting us to develop “good judgement” and becoming able to make difficult decisions in the “grey areas” where there are competing demands and priorities. Through it, we will develop our expertise upon which our reputation and career success will be based.

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About the author:

Fiona Westwood practiced for more than 20 years as a commercial lawyer, latterly as an equity partner with particular responsibilities for management and business development across the whole firm.

Since 1994, she has run her own management consultancy, Westwood Associates ( which specialises in providing support to the professional sector, particularly in relation to strategy and business development, client service improvement, professional development and leadership skills.

Over the past 15 years, she has researched in detail the strategy and operational success of professional service organisations, culminating in three published books.  Her first book, Achieving Best Practice –shaping professionals for success was nominated their September Book of the Month by McGraw Hill in 2001 and developed a Model for Success based on identifying market trends and business drivers.  Her second book, Accelerated Best Practice – implementing success in professional firms expands in this theme, highlighting the importance of aligning strategy with client needs, service quality, people development and leadership.   Her most recent book, Developing Resilience – the key to professional success looks at the impact of the current marketplace on professionals and their career progression and ways of working.

She teaches at post-graduate level and was a co-opted member on the Law Society of Scotland’s Working Party on Standards and CPD Project Leader of their Education and Training Review.  She writes regularly for a number of professional publications, and has worked on international client projects in the USA, Europe, Hong Kong, Australia and the Middle East.