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When does the imposter syndrome end? Practicing two years and still feel like I can’t do anything right. My mental health is really suffering.

likehelpful
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It does end, but it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of mistakes. In fact, it shows self awareness that you can admit that feel that way.

Just remember this when you practice. Make sure you learn from your mistakes. If you meet an attorney that tells you he or she never made mistakes, they are either a) lying, b) they don’t actually practice law, or c) they are most likely bad attorneys because they cannot even recognize their mistakes.

I have mentored a number of associates and most of them have come to me with the feelings you are having. They have all come to me having made mistakes, large and small. I tell each and every person that works for me that it’s ok to make mistakes, just always make new mistakes. If you do that, it means you are learning.

Eventually, you will draw on experience when you are presented with a new legal challenge. You may have never faced a motion quite like the one you have in front of you in the moment, but if you think you can cobble together bits and pieces of past experiences and quickly form a game plan to tackle the new challenge. When you can do that, the imposter feeling fades away.

likeupliftinghelpful

8th year here, who’s been fighting it particularly acutely this year. I will say that it comes in waves, largely because you feel that you are expected to know different amounts of law at different points in your career. I was promoted to Counsel this year, which is wonderful on the one hand but has also exacerbated some of the impostor feelings. There is a great deal of law that I know offhand at this point, but a great deal that I still do not, and I constantly feel as if I should have more areas down pat than I actually do. (Which prompts a lot of thoughts like, “Shit, if the partners realized that I don’t know [insert point of law here,” which is the very definition of impostor syndrome.)

As time goes on, you’ll realize that your experience will not align perfectly with that of your peers. The projects you get and the clients to which you’re assigned will largely determine your knowledge base and the issues you encounter, and there will be associates junior to you that know more than you about certain topics. That will mess with your confidence. But then you will realize that you have skills and points of knowledge that exceed some people SENIOR to you, and it balances out. Just take the initiative to identify some areas where you would like to become more experience, and ask for that work. Contrary to all of the horror stories, I’ve always found that there are plenty of BigLaw partners (I’m at a V50) who genuinely care about associate development and would be happy to work with an associate who’s eager to develop his/her skill set in an area where that partner specializes.

Two things I remind myself to help stave off the impostor feeling when it rears its ugly head:

1. The people who run these firms, make hiring decisions, and allocate work are not stupid. And you are not clever enough to pull the wool over the eyes of who have interviewed and rejected countless potential associates who failed where you succeeded

2. Law is endlessly complicated and information-rich. You will never know everything about your area, and no one expects you to—especially as a junior associate.

likehelpful
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OP, for a direct answer, you aren’t close to being past the imposter syndrome so for your mental health, learn to reframe this. You aren’t an imposter, you are learning your craft. You know more now than you did a year ago and that’s the measure of your achievement. Knowing it all is not a relevant metric. You may feel the world us judging and laughing at you, but most aren’t and those that do are jerks. Yeah, it’s sometimes frustrating being OC to a junior lawyer but we were all there once and remember the terror and uncertainty.

likeupliftinghelpful

This is great advice. Also, consider your “imposter” feeling as a protective device. Lawyers should always be learning and evaluating what they are doing and how it could be done better. If you get too comfortable, you will stop growing and will be more likely to make a mistake.

likesmarthelpful

It stops when you look back and see that you’ve already been practicing and doing what you’re now doing and that you’ve done it successfully

likeupliftingsmart

This is 100% accurate. I had terrible imposter syndrome until one of my senior partners made me do exactly this. He made me go through the cases where I had entered an appearance and really look at what I had contributed to the case. It made me realize how much I had actually done and certainly made me feel better even if I wasn’t making the calls on the case at all or alone.

likesmart

It ends when you realize that winging it is part of the job and even attorneys who you respect and would never in a million years think are imposters still feel like you do once in a while.

likeuplifting

Have faith in yourself. Lawyers do not know everything after one, two, twenty years of practice. Being a lawyer means dedicating yourself to always learning and growing.

likeupliftinghelpful

It ends when you detach your emotions from your work. I definitely want to “win” my cases and I work hard for that, but I am not emotionally attached to my briefs, for example. Let the partner rip them up; I’m going to learn and not take it personally.

likesmartfunny

Wait...it’s supposed to end?!

likefunny

One of the partners at my firm has been practicing for 14 years and still talks about this feeling regularly so I’m not sure it ever ends 😩

likehelpful

I've been in practice 15 years and still feel like that sometimes. It's natural.

like

I am not sure that it ever ends! You just build up confidence over time when clients like you and you are able to get good results. Everyone has good days when you feel like you got it and you’re on top of the world, and then bad days when something happens and you question everything. That’s life ! And that’s the profession.

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Yes exactly what Vice Chair posted above.

likesmart

I would say it starts to get a bit better right around 2 years. When I started to occasionally know the answers to client questions on my own, or to know what to do about them, just because I’ve done it before, it felt like an achievement. Take a moment to consider various things that you do automatically, or so much faster now than a year ago. Things that used to be daunting become nbd. You get better without noticing.

Simultaneously, learning more makes it much easier to see that everyone else does NOT have their shit together as much as they pretend to. As someone who is self deprecating and would rather err on the side of lowering expectations, it always surprises me (but shouldn’t) the extent to which people and esp. lawyers are always playing themselves up. A lot of lawyers suck and at your rate you’re not at all a bad option for clients! That’s where I am, hah.

like

Confidence. Someone’s paying you money for the work that you do. And people don’t give away money for free. And these people paying you are pretty smart.

like

This, so much. Granted, you have a responsibility to try and learn for yourself and not everything is going to be spoon fed to you. But at the same time, people who are supervising you have a responsibility to make clear what they are asking you to do. And if you’re doing your best to understand, don’t beat yourself up if you’re still struggling because they are not properly communicating their expectations. (Easier said that done, I know - especially when they get frustrated and blame you for everything going wrong!)

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For me it started getting better around 3rd year. 5th year now and it comes up much less often. As A3 said, most people do not have their shit together! I am still in awe of certain partners I work with - especially on calls with clients or other more off the cuff interactions.

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It never really goes. Some days it’s there. Some days not. Skilled senior partners can get scared. Some never experience it I have learned. Focus on the positive. What you have learned. Stay in the present. Imposter phenomenon prays on thinking on the past or the future.

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Lawyer answer: It depends...on the company you keep. If you are fortunate enough to surround yourself with colleagues, mentors, jurists, and even some mentees who are smarter than you and relish that company. We all have something to learn all the time. Just keep doing what you consider quality work, recognizing constructive criticism, pressing the delete key on others’ egoistic machinations, knowing that we seldom get to perfect and take a deep breath. You got this.

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4th year here. I struggled a lot with this question during the last four days.

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Fourth Year here. Glad to see I’m not the only one. This is actually comforting.

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Fake it 'til you make it. Worked for me for 30 years and still going strong.

likefunny

I don’t think it really ever ends, especially for women and people of color. For me, it just feels like I got too old and tired (and busy) to let the feelings and thoughts take up any space in my head! So from that perspective, it WILL get better!

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