If you read a lot of different sources on a given subject, you start to see patterns. One pattern I’ve noticed when reading veteran lawyers talking about practicing law is the pervasiveness of fear in the legal profession.

Most lawyers would be afraid to admit that fear is a constant companion in their practice. Probably, they wouldn’t admit this because they are afraid of exposing potential weakness. But one lawyer and one former lawyer who have mentioned fear and the law have been at the pinnacle of the profession.

First, Morgan & Morgan founder John Morgan on the role of fear in his book You Can’t Teach Hungry:

For many, the fear of failure is always with us. I have been amazed as I have read books and articles through the years of the great CEOs and entrepeneurs who confess, even during the height of their greatest success, to fearing failure and worrying about being exposed as a poser. That fear of failure is with me every single day…

Second, Richard Scruggs from his April 2015 interview and article in the Clarion-Ledger:

His mistakes arose not from a feeling of invincibility, but of fear. Fear of losing a case. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of failure.

To the casual observer, the thought of Morgan or Scruggs fearing failure at the pinnacle of their legal careers is absurd. But I have to say, I buy it.

Waiting for an important ruling
Waiting for an important ruling

Fear is a symptom of anxiety, which I’ve written about previously. I believe anxiety is pervasive in the legal profession. I am also of the opinion that it’s silently pervasive. Many people who experience feelings of anxiety do not realize that is what they are experiencing.

What is a bit counter-intuitive (at least for me), is that the anxiety gets worse the longer you practice. One lawyer who I discussed this issue with theorized that anxiety gets worse because it is cumulative over time. It’s an interesting take that rang true for me.

I now realize that, for many, success in litigation requires successfully managing anxiety and its symptoms. Scruggs is an example of what can happen when a lawyer loses control of legal-practice-induced anxiety.

But we all know plenty of other examples. They just don’t necessarily wind up in prison.

Conversely, I could name some lawyers who I would bet experience no anxiety in the middle of a big case. That just don’t care enough to get anxiety over it. I envy the mindset. But I wouldn’t want them handling my case.