By Jennifer Anderson
“There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. It’s called humility. Confidence smiles. Arrogance smirks.”
– Author Unknown
If you asked me for one solid tip for finding success in the legal profession, I would give you this: learn to be confident without being arrogant. The reasons for this are simple. First, there is a strong link between a lawyer’s confidence and her professional reputation. Secondly, there is almost nothing more disastrous to your career than arrogance. Yet, despite this dichotomy in others’ responses to confidence and arrogance, legal professionals often confuse the two.
So, how do you gain confidence while reigning in a tendency towards arrogance?
Understand the difference
Before you can strive for confidence without veering into arrogance, you need to understand the difference between these two states of mind.
According to Psychology Today: “Confidence is a belief in oneself, the conviction that one has the ability to meet life’s challenges and to succeed — and the willingness to act accordingly. Being confident requires a realistic sense of one’s capabilities and feeling secure in that knowledge.”
People who are arrogant, on the other hand, “have an inflated and unrealistic sense of their importance and believe they know it all.”
Do you see the key difference in these definitions? Confident people have a realistic grasp of their capabilities while those who are arrogant have “inflated and unrealistic” self-images. This suggests that the first step in gaining confidence without being arrogant is to be honest with yourself about yourself. This leads us to our next tip …
Know what you don’t know
Have you ever gone down to your local courthouse and watched attorneys argue motions? It’s a great place to start understanding the difference between confidence and arrogance. In particular, you should pay attention when the judge asks questions of the attorneys.
The truth is, sometimes the attorneys simply don’t have the answer to the judge’s question. A confident attorney will give a truthful, yet powerful response — something along the lines of “I don’t have the answer to that right now but I can research the issue and submit a supplemental brief by this afternoon.”
An arrogant attorney, by contrast, will try to make up an answer on the fly. If you’re observing, you will see that judges have a very low tolerance for made-up answers. You will also begin to see why arrogance is so harmful to one’s career.
Understand where arrogance comes from
The truth is, arrogance is often rooted in insecurity. Arrogant people may overcompensate for their insecurities by pretending to be something that they’re not. In legal practice, however, there’s a highly effective antidote for insecurity — preparation.
Kobe Bryant had a great quote on the importance of being prepared: “Confidence comes from preparation. When the game is on the line, I’m not asking myself to do something I haven’t done a thousand times before.”
If you’re feeling insecure about your practice, the best way to overcome it is, well, practice. Don’t show up to court without fully reading and understanding the cases cited in your brief. Don’t give your boss an opinion on his client’s new case if you have never dealt with that particular issue before. Don’t tell co-workers that something can be electronically served unless you absolutely, positively know that it can.
Like Kobe Bryant, you’re going to have to do some things a thousand times before you feel confident doing them. That’s ok. Confidence is earned.
If you have an arrogance problem, deal with it
Perhaps someone has accused you of being arrogant. Or maybe you’re just starting to see that you have been propping yourself up more than you deserve at this stage in your career. Either way, there are some fairly simple steps for overcoming your arrogance. These include things like learning to laugh at yourself, practicing humility, becoming okay with being wrong sometimes, and — importantly — being kind to yourself. And remember, no matter how good it may feel to be arrogant, it is not good for your legal career.
Study confident people
One of the best ways to lose your arrogance and replace it with confidence is to actually study confident people. Start by looking around you. Are any of your mentors confident without being cocky? Ask yourself what you think makes them that way. If you so dare, ask them.
Next, don’t be afraid to read articles or watch videos about confidence. Believe it or not, quite a bit of research has been done on this issue. Some of the tips the experts provide may be simple ways for you to change your frame of mind.
The hardest part of this whole exercise, of course, will be giving your ego an honest self-assessment. The truth is, switching from arrogance to confidence will be hard. It may require more work, greater preparation, and a heavy dose of self-reflection. At the end of the day, however, you’ll be glad you opted for a career rooted in confidence … and so will everyone who encounters you professionally.