Overcoming Fear: A Lawyer’s Journey to Asking Questions

For lawyers, questions are a fundamental tool. They are the key to building cases, challenging opposing arguments, preparing witnesses, engaging in negotiations and so much more. But what happens if fear paralyzes your ability to ask questions?

Meet a recent client of mine – we’ll call him Otis – a junior lawyer, eager to please. Yet, Otis was afraid to ask questions of the lawyers he worked for.  This fear is not uncommon. Many young legal minds grapple with the prospect of appearing clueless in the eyes of their colleagues and mentors.

In our coaching sessions, we honed in on the root of Otis’ apprehension: a lack of clear communication from his mentor. The mixed and confusing messages from his mentor had sown seeds of doubt. Otis felt helpless and this fear began to impact his ability to ask questions of the other lawyers he worked for as well.

Armed with the insight that Otis’ frustration had more to do with someone else’s inability gave him the motivation to do something about it.  We developed two simple phrases that Otis could use to start clarifying matters with his mentor, which would eventually lead to questions:  “I’m confused…” “I’m curious…”

Fast forward a week or two, and here’s what he had to say: “There was no fear in the questions I asked. My sole focus was on getting an answer.” Otis chose courage over fear.

Otis’ journey is a testament to the power of resilience. It also speaks to the power of seeking help – something that lawyers are notorious for not doing. By working with someone who could help him unpack the real issue and develop a solution tailored to his circumstances made a huge difference for Otis.

For junior lawyers facing similar struggles, know this: you’re not alone. Fear of asking questions is common, but it shouldn’t hold you back. As a coach, I’m here to provide the support and guidance you need to thrive in your early years of practice.

And to my fellow senior lawyers, remember when you were juniors. Recall the mentors who shaped you, who encouraged you to be better. Or see it as an opportunity to be the senior you needed when you were a junior.

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