How Lawyers Can Learn From Failure

  • October 27, 2021
  • Neha Chugh, Chugh Law

It was a typical afternoon this summer when I found myself being invited to another lawyer event — come to the event, the website boasted, where a prominent lawyer will share their tips for success. The lawyer’s glossy headshot featured with a list of their recent successes in court and in practice reveals a flawless face, a beaming smile and a well-pressed suit.

I took to Twitter, tired of the successful lawyer stories and hungry for failure stories. I was seeking authenticity. I want to know about the vulnerable spaces in lawyers’ lives where they realized they were not superhuman. I wanted to know the stories of the plunge down to rock bottom, and when they were at rock bottom, plunged even further. Tell me what it is like to be human, and not just the great lawyers our website  profiles boast us to be.

As lawyers we amplify our presentation of selves: glossy photos, flashy websites with punchy text, starched suits, heads held high, briefcase in hand,  a firm handshake and a flashy smile. We try and exude confidence, self-assurance, superior knowledge and courtroom skills. We project infallibility and omniscience for our clients, who present to us in their times of need and rely on us for our sage advice.

After more than a decade of practising law, there has not been a day that has gone by that I haven’t been inundated with the valorization of lawyer success stories: lawyer awards for “Best Lawyers” “Top Litigator” or “Top Firm” crowd our social media feeds. I have been nominated for this type of award — it is an honour and a privilege to be recognized by my colleagues. But it isn’t a depiction of the whole truth of a lawyer’s life.

Lawyers fail. Plain and simple. We fail at the little things. We fail at the big things. We lose in court. A lot — and sometimes we lose big. Our clients go to prison or can be saddled with large costs awards. In our personal lives, we have losses of important relationships, divorces, death, falling out of friendships. I work in social justice, criminal defence, family law and child protection law. I don’t meet my clients on the best days of their lives. I cheerlead for their recovery and reintegration into the community. I listen to them as they explain their hurts and sorrows. I lose a lot of cases, even cases I think I am going to win.