Being Authentic in the Legal Marketplace

How authentic should you really be in the legal marketplace?

20170314_Virgina Essandoh (6) resizedVirginia G. Essandoh, Chief Diversity Officer at Ballard Spahr, visited BYU Law School to share some ideas about being authentic in the legal profession.

According to Essandoh, “Authenticity by itself is not enough to achieve success or to help you achieve your goals in the legal profession. It requires coordinating your authentic self with the rules of the organization. ”

Should you bring your “whole self” to the workplace?

It’s important to weigh this question carefully. There are some reasons to hold off–for instance, your differing political and social interests could cause conflict, or certain aspects of your “whole self” might simply be seen as unprofessional. At the same time, however, being authentic allows you to feel free because you’re not consumed with trying to be what someone else wants you to be. If you’re not somewhat authentic, you will lack the confidence that is so vital to effective lawyering.

The key, Essandoh says, is developing self-awareness to handle these situations better, and to be comfortable around the people you work with before you let them get to know you better. First and foremost, you are a professional.

How can I know myself better?

There are many ways to know yourself better, including personality tests and strengths assessments. In addition, noticing how you react to stress can be telling. Seeking feedback from others is also a good way to learn more about yourself.

“Take every opportunity you get to focus on self-awareness. Figure out the things that push your buttons, what your strengths are, and what your weaknesses are,” Essandoh said.

Playing by the rules

One of the most important things to do is to learn “the rules” and then learn to be authentic within those rules. For instance, a professional dress code and a financial commitment to that dress code is simply an expectation of the legal profession. Dressing “authentically” without following these rules can have a significant negative impact.

Start with the end in mind

Essandoh recommended thinking of three adjectives you would want other people to say or think about you when you’re out of the room. “Decisions about pay and evaluation will be had when you’re out of the room,” she said. “Live your life built around that personal brand.”

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