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"I Don't Belong" - Imposter Syndrome in the Legal Profession


Created on August 18, 2022





"What am I doing here? I don't belong." "I'm a total fraud and, sooner or later, everyone's going to find out." Sound familiar?

Imposter syndrome, also called perceived fraudulence, involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments. While early studies focused on highly successful women, it is now clear that it can affect anyone in the legal profession – from law students to Big Law executives.

Living in constant fear of discovery, attorneys strive for perfection in everything they do. Attorneys might feel guilty or worthless when they can't achieve perfection on the job, not to mention burned out and overwhelmed by their continued efforts. The results can be devastating.

True imposter feelings involve self-doubt and uncertainty about talents and abilities. But what about when attorneys find themselves in an environment where their peers fail to make room for them or imply they don't deserve their success? Along with the more traditional factors, gender bias and institutionalized racism can also play a significant part in imposter feelings. Even if only perceived, they can surely reinforce the feeling of not belonging.

In addition to a survey of imposter syndrome in the legal profession, Brian Quinn, of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania, Inc., discusses a personal story highlighting these very concerns. He shares the impact of the untimely death of his mentor and how trying to "fill his shoes" became more than a job - it took over his life. The consequences were a decades-long effort to cope with and then conceal those feelings with alcohol and drugs. 

Learning Objectives: 

  1. Gain a better understanding of what imposter syndrome is, the impact it has on attorneys and the ethical risks that imposter syndrome presents for attorneys

  2. Examine the role of gender and racial bias in creating imposter syndrome among members of the legal profession

  3. Receive practical guidance for overcoming imposter syndrome

  4. Support attorneys battling imposter syndrome

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