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What Is Impostor Syndrome and How Lawyers Can Get Affected?

Have you ever felt that all your achievements are a fraud? That your professional accomplishments can be attributed to luck and you don’t deserve to be a lawyer?

You’re not alone.

That feeling is called the ‘impostor syndrome’, a phenomenon that can be experienced by people of all professions, lawyers included. Impostor syndrome plants a seed of doubt and makes you think of yourself as a fraud.

What is impostor syndrome?

While some people have a slight feeling of inadequacy, others experience a strong fear of being a failure, a fraud. And the impostor will be exposed by people around them very soon.

You may have heard of a Dunning Kruger effect, when a person tends to overestimate their achievements and start taking things very lightly. For example, a student that is so confident in the upcoming exam, they only spend a couple hours in preparation. 

Being the opposite of the Dunning Kruger effect, impostor syndrome makes people feel less confident in their abilities and undervalue the work that they do.

No matter how hard I work, for some reason, it never feels good enough. I tend to overachieve and stretch myself thin. I’ll work long hours, take on too many projects at once or absorb a heavier workload than I can realistically handle and never admit then I need help with a project or task

Even though not many people talk about it, almost 70% of the population have experienced impostor syndrome at some point. This syndrome is not gender-specific, it affects people working in competitive environments, under a lot of pressure, and is mostly attributed to over-achieving individuals.

Neil Gaiman impostor syndrome

Of all the celebrities suffering from the phenomenon, Neil Gaiman’s impostor syndrome is probably the most popular search in Google regarding the topic. Here’s his story:

Once, the renowned writer was invited to a gathering full of ‘great and good people’ that played a big role in the development of science, art, and literature. Among them, Neil Gaiman felt out of place. He felt like he did not deserve to be there, and others will very soon find out about that. He felt like he was about to get exposed.

One day, Neil Gaiman was standing at the back of a hall, speaking with an older gentleman, who was his namesake. The older Neil also felt out of place at the event, stating that ‘he only went where he was told to’, which was nothing special.

That older gentleman was Neil Armstron, the first man to travel to the moon. Knowing that that counted for something, Neil Gaiman felt a little better about himself and knew that he was not alone.

Lawyers struggling with impostor syndrome

Lawyers as a group are quite susceptible to low levels of self-esteem at their workplace. Due to the specifics of a legal profession, lawyers must always stay organized, be perfect and flawless in every aspect of legal operations.

Senior lawyers often hope to preserve the illusion of being ‘flawless practitioners’, and seldom admit their failures to the public. This creates a bad image for fresh associates—every mistake they make will result in being ashamed of.

It can be frustrating because I know I’m a great employee and I can recognize when I’m doing a good job, but at the same time there’s always something there that makes me second guess that or downplay my abilities. I think the worst part is not being able to feel that sense of accomplishment when there is plenty to be proud of.

Below are some other reasons that can result in impostor syndrome among lawyers:

  • Self doubt
  • Unconstructive criticism
  • Being shunned when asking for help
  • Comparison to high-achieving colleagues
  • Unclear expectations


Being a synonym of excellence, unmistakability, and risk avoidance, the legal department creates perfectionists and overachievers. It is no wonder that almost 3/4th of the industry will be full of self-doubt and feel like frauds.

Who is most vulnerable to impostor syndrome?

In her study, the impostor syndrome researcher Dr. Valerie Young outlines the 5 main types of people most susceptible to impostor syndrome symptoms:

  • Perfectionists focus on how they do things and demand perfection in every aspect of their lives. When perfection cannot be reached, they feel like they haven’t done enough.
  • Natural geniuses learn everything with ease and know that being a professional also means tackling any difficulties with minimum struggle. When faced with a challenge, natural geniuses feel like a fraud because the task at hand is difficult for them.
  • Rugged individualists know that they have to handle everything by themselves, and consider themselves ‘unworthy’, when they can’t achieve success independently.
  • Experts devote all their time to learning as much as possible about the topic, and feel like a failure when they are not able to answer a question they have missed, or simply don’t know the answer to.
  • Superheroes are there to succeed in every role they take, and push themselves to the limit. Even after doing their best, they might end up feeling like they ‘should have done more’.

Why is impostor syndrome a problem?

Impostor syndrome not only affects a lawyer’s mental health. Here are the ways that this syndrome can impact your lives, both personal and at work:

  • Low self-esteem, self-doubt—you will reject recognition and let others claim your achievements
  • Impeded career growth—you might stop pushing yourself forward at work, lose expectation of, or even reject promotions and pay raises
  • Hampered leadership—the syndrome can make you fear being exposed and result in making weak, unconfident decisions as a head of department or a supervisor
  • Lack of innovation—the fear of failure leaves no room for creativity and incentives
  • Weak mental health—feeling of isolation, increased stress and anxiety

Lawyers with impostor syndrome will stop moving outside of their comfort zone, and avoid taking important risks while making decisions that can be considered ‘too safe’ and harmful to their clients.

How to overcome impostor syndrome?

The best way to deal with negative thoughts is to make them work for a good cause. Here’s how you can use impostor syndrome to perform better and feel good about yourself:

  • Identify and work with your weaknesses
  • Lose the pretentious feeling
  • Motivate yourself to perform better
  • Step out of your comfort zone

There are always at least two solutions to the problem: embrace it and live with it, or learn from it and make the problem nonexistent. Choose the second option. You of all people deserve it.

Dealing with impostor syndrome using technology

Software for law firms has long since become your trusted partner in work processes. Aside from helping you become more effective and productive at work, legal software can help you deal with mental health issues, such as impostor syndrome:

  • Use task manager and don’t miss any deadlines
  • Use a calendar to avoid too many meetings in one day
  • Use CRM software to manage your clients

We feel like document workflow automation software has become such an important part of lawyers’ lives, that it deserves a separate checklist of invaluable benefits. Automated contract drafting processes, error-free contracts, and self-service automated workflows are only a small part of what document automation software can offer to help you feel more confident and valuable.

Legal software can not only make your life easier. It is your partner that will help you perform better, keep track of all the deadlines, and focus on more impactful work, thus feeling more worthy of your position.

Conclusion

Remember—you are your most valuable asset. Taking care of your mental health is the best foundation for a successful career, a happy future, and the ever-present confidence that you have all it takes to cope with anything your work drops onto your plate.

To find out more about legal impostor syndrome and get a set of effective steps to recognize it at early stages and battle it, download our ‘Impostor Syndrome’ guide.

Also, remember to download and print out the mental health checklist to help you deal with work stress without having to leave your desk.

Explore how AXDRAFT can help you reduce stress in legal work and boost your performance by trying our Instant Demo to see our document drafting in action. Get a pitch-perfect, ready-to-use NDA in 57 seconds. 

If you want your legal team to start spending 0 effort on processing simple contracts, go to AXDRAFT QuickDocs page and witness the magic of fully automated contract workflows.

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