10 Ways Successful Lawyers Respond to Career Setbacks

Jeena Cho
The practice of law is just that: a lifelong practice. It’s not something we’ll ever perfect or master.

The practice of law is just that: a lifelong practice. It’s not something we’ll ever perfect or master.

Jetta Productions/Walter Hodges via GettyImages

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.

—Winston Churchill

All lawyers, whether we’ve been practicing for one month or many decades, will face setbacks, disappointments, and failures. Clients pay us to deliver certain desired results, yet the outcome of any given case is never completely up to us. We can pull all-nighters, research every angle, and write the most brilliant brief. The facts and the law may be on our side, but a judge may still rule against us.

As a young lawyer, I certainly had my share of challenges. Out of the gate, I failed the New York Bar. As someone who always excelled and was told “try hard, give it your best, and you’ll achieve success,” the failure was unacceptable. I also was fired from a job. I’ve lost jury trials, bench trials, and many motions.

Learning to overcome failures, learning to recognize obstacles, learning to moderate your emotions and bounce back from difficulties, these are the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and resiliency. The better you’re able to learn from your experience, let it go, and move on, the better you’ll be as a lawyer.

Here is what I’ve learned after 12 years of law practice. I have many battle scars, like a road map of what I’ve overcome, and I’m stronger and better for it.

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