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August Book of the Month: Untangling Fear in Lawyering

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Untangling Fear in LawyeringUntangling Fear in Lawyering: A Four-Step Journey Toward Powerful Advocacy
By Heidi K. Brown

Reviewed by Andrea Woods, Reference Librarian


This refreshing new book from Heidi K. Brown—litigator, author, professor, and Law Library MCLE presenter on August 9th—soundly dispenses with the tired conventional wisdom surrounding how to handle fear, and instead invites lawyers to distill and untangle their fear. When a new attorney feels daunted at the prospect of facing a cantankerous judge or a 1L worries about an intimidating professor’s use of the Socratic method, the typical advice is to simply “push through” fears, or “fake it till you make it.” But in Untangling Fear in Lawyering: A Four-Step Journey Toward Powerful Advocacy, Brown challenges this approach as being at best, phenomenally unhelpful, and at worst, highly destructive to a lawyer’s on-the-job performance and mental health. Fear is not a weakness, and it is not a motivator. Rather than downplay fear, Brown acknowledges that fear in lawyering is very real and very legitimate—lawyers face stressful situations marked by emotional clients, tight deadlines, and enormous consequences for even a small mistake. In fact, the entire legal profession is a culture built around fear, and lawyers adopt these rights-of-passage as a badge of honor. Brown sees how the culture of fear leads to anxiety, depression, and burnout, and can drive excellent lawyers away from the profession. She posits that legal education and practice can be improved by radically changing how we approach fear.

Brown proposes that we try to understand fear, to tease apart the perceived threats from reality. With self-awareness, we can use specific strategies to manage fear, rather than simply attempting to squelch it with pithy sayings that only wind up amplifying it. She explores the science of fight-or-flight as well as the tangled knot of emotions—shame, rejection, unworthiness, or the false bravado that hides a scarcity mindset—so that we can start to unpack fear’s grip and develop confidence. Next, Brown delves into how other professions approach fear, citing that medical and journalism curricula actively teach students what to do when they make a mistake in their future vocation. Similarly, in the realm of professional sports, the mental and emotional training that athletes receive is instructive on how to stop the onslaught of negative, destructive thought patterns. Brown follows with a four-step program that will cultivate true strength and courage in lawyering, in which we untangle fear, mentally reboot, channel our inner athlete, and build a culture of fortitude. She includes exercises to guide us through this process of learning how to stop repressing fear, and instead, to grow in spite of it. Finally, appendices set forth checklists, teaching strategies for educators, and ideas for law firm managers, and a comprehensive bibliography lists suggested further reading on numerous related topics.

Not only is Untangling Fear essential reading for a lawyer’s own personal growth, but it is also an important assessment of the dysfunctional culture for which the entire legal profession is renowned. As the legal industry continues to study the mental health and substance abuse problems that are all too common among lawyers, Brown makes clear that understanding fear and the emotions that surround it is critical to improving the overall health and culture of the profession.


Untangling Fear in Lawyering was generously donated to the Law Library by author Heidi K. Brown during our May Book Drive. Ms. Brown will be presenting The Introverted Lawyer MCLE program on Friday, August 9th from 12–1 as part of the Library’s Lunchtime Speaker Series.

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