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After the Bar

Professional Development

Failure in Law Practice Isn't Fatal; It's a Requirement

Leslie Turnage

Failure in Law Practice Isn't Fatal; It's a Requirement ARCURS PRODUCTIONS

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The practice of law promotes perfectionism and winners while criticizing losers, leading people to internalize the fear of failure and become failures—a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, if you can reframe the concept of failure and fail with grace, then failure is not a step backward; it’s an excellent stepping stone to success. Accepting that failure is inevitable will free you from the limiting perception of perfection.

Grace is:
G: Growth Mindset
R: Recognize the grit
A: Accept
C: Create a new idea
E: Execute your plan

Challenging the Fear of Failure

Instead of having anxiety over failure, ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I fail?” This simple change in mindset turns failure into a lesson by identifying the goal of failing, which is to fail fast and fail forward. Failure is a delay, not defeat. Why do we fear failure? We have anxiety, worry, and fear because we are in a profession that breeds it. The only actual failure is failing to thrive, which requires resilience and courage. Courage is a commitment to step out of your comfort zone and overcome irrational, exaggerated fears. When we are in the fear stage, we are not focused on putting forward our best arguments. We must regain our focus and concentrate, and to do this, we need resilience.

Building Resilience

Resilient lawyers are authentic and aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They adapt to changing circumstances and encourage others to do the same. Resilience is the crucial factor in helping lawyers cope with stress, change, adversity, and failure. Failure comes with the most valuable lessons—it cultivates humility, builds resiliency, and breeds fearlessness. Resilience allows you to represent clients zealously, adapt to new challenges, and grow in the face of diversity instead of caving into failure. Resilient lawyers understand that every conflict they can overcome prepares them for the next obstacle. The following lists are tools you can employ to reclaim your mindset.

Tools to help you get out of your mind and into your senses:

  • Settle your gaze on something beautiful and calming, like a piece of art
  • Awareness by focusing on your breathing
  • Take a deep breath
  • Use aromatherapy
  • Listen to music

Mind habits associated with competence:

  • Responsibility
  • Competence as a core value
  • Resilience
  • Ability to learn from experiences

The grit pillars are the building blocks of mindset:

  • Growth mindset (mindset is everything)
  • Resilience (Bounce back factor)
  • Integrity (Heart-brain alignment)
  • Tenacity (Don’t give up too soon)


Psychologists define perfectionism as a personality trait characterized by striving for flawless work product, setting excessively high-performance standards, and being overly critical of one’s behavior. Lawyers are afraid of failure because we believe we will appear incompetent if we try and then fail. Perfectionists believe there is no room for mistakes. Try establishing the mindset of “I am a work in progress” instead of “a finished product.” You can find excellence in failure and set yourself on the path to success.

Life Is a Successive Unfolding of Failure

Failure does not have to be a catastrophe. You will encounter loss, but you must not be defeated. It is necessary to encounter defeats to learn who you are and how you can rise above adversity.

Don’t take failure personally; instead, view it as a steppingstone. Learn from your failures and apply what you learned to future situations. Remember that failure has produced many successes. Consider how many people in history had failed before they became successful and indeed because they failed. Believe in yourself. Rather than giving up when things do not work out, use your experience as an opportunity to build resilience. Believe you have what it takes! No one succeeds all the time. When you learn how to fail gracefully, you allow yourself to fail and emerge more resilient. 

If you’d like to explore further the topic of failure, consider watching the webinar replay Failing with Grace: Choosing Resiliency. This program will challenge you to reframe your tolerance for failure. Speakers address the psychology of failure and resiliency. You will learn to turn mistakes into stepping stones and feel empowered to embrace failure and choose resiliency. (The webinar replay is not for CLE and is only available to ABA members.)