Professor Heidi K.  Brown is a former construction litigator, author and self-described introvert. Mark was able to connect with Heidi, who is based in Brooklyn, New York where she is the Director of the legal writing program at Brooklyn Law School, to discuss the differences between introverts and extroverts in the legal context. Heidi’s recent book, The Introverted Lawyer: A Seven Step Journey Toward Authentically Empowered Advocacyhelps the introverted lawyer to best harness their personality and flourish in the legal field without conforming to the stereotypical lawyer as extrovert. Professor Brown will be presenting a CLE webinar entitled The Introverted Lawyer: Authentically Empowered Advocacy, in our New Lawyer Webinar series on May 9, 2018. Register now.

ALPS In Brief, The ALPS Risk Management Podcast, is hosted by ALPS Risk Manager, Mark Bassingthwaighte.

Transcript:

MARK:

Hello, welcome to another episode of ALPS In Brief, the ALPS Risk Management podcast. We’re coming to you from the ALPS home office in the historic Florence Building in beautiful downtown Mozilla, Montana. I’m Mark Bassingthwaighte, the ALPS Risk Manager, and I have the pleasure today of sitting down with Heidi K. Brown, a noted author. We’re going to be talking about her book here in just a few minutes and also Professor at Brooklyn Law School. Welcome to the podcast Heidi and if I could have you briefly introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about yourself and we’ll get started on a conversation.

HEIDI:

Thank you so much for having me. Yes, I went to law school at the University of Virginia. I grew up in Virginia. Then I went into construction litigation right out of law school, actually both my summers in law school I worked for a construction litigation firm, a boutique litigation firm and ended up doing that for the bulk of my litigation career and about 15 years into my litigation career I transitioned into teaching legal writing. I’ve been doing that for about eight years now at three different schools. Most recently joined Brooklyn Law School as the Director of the Legal Writing Program, here in Brooklyn, New York. I love to write and my latest project as you mentioned is this booked called the Introverted Lawyer.

MARK:

As an aside, I just finished it. I thought it was a very well done book. I also found it interesting in firms of your history. Being an introvert and having this career in construction litigation, I just thought, “Wow, okay, that had to be a challenge.” Let’s start off just talking about some basics for out listener. Can you describe some of the key difference between introverts and extroverts in terms of the context of the legal profession?

HEIDI:

Sure, yes. Until I started really studying this in the legal context, I did what most people do and I sort of lumped those labels of quiet individuals together, introverts, shyness, social anxiety. But they’re actually very different concepts and different categories of personality traits and preferences. So, first I can sort of distinguish between introversion and extroversion, if that would help, and then distinguish among introversion, shyness and social anxiety. So introverts and extroverts, those terms really just describe the different ways we process stimuli, energy, and information. Introverts process all of those types of things deeply and internally and sort of methodically on the inside. Where as extroverts process stimuli and information and energy externally. So, I kind of like to use the image of Time Square in New York, it’s a very highly stimulated environment and an extrovert might thrive on the noise and the action and the number of people and gain energy from that scenario. Where as an introvert can handle that with skill, but in a shorter dosage and will need to sort of retreat to quietude and solitude to regain energy and to process all of that stimuli.

In the legal context, well, introverts can be very adept at processing information and complex legal concepts, they need to do it internally. Actually the scientists say that introverts and extroverts use two completely different neurological pathways in the brain to process information. And the introvert’s pathway is longer, so that’s why is can take us longer to listen to questions, read something, handle a lot of competing voices in a meeting and we process all of that internally and deeply before we’re ready to respond aloud. It can seem like an introvert is slower, but actually they’re just going very deep into analyzing concepts.

Shyness and social anxiety and completely different concepts. You can be an introvert and not be shy at all. Shyness and social anxiety and more of a fear of judgment or a fear of criticism in performance oriented scenarios. And that can stem from sort of things that we remember from growing up, maybe we had a coach or a well-meaning mentor or peers or a care giver who put us in situations where we felt judgment or even shame, sometimes, can drive adult shyness and social anxiety. So they’re very different categories. I find it helps, when we start to understand ourselves in the legal context what might be holding us back in certain scenarios. It’s helpful to understand, “Is this because I’m an introvert and I process things internally or is this because I’m afraid of the perception of judgment from a judge or opposing counsel or a colleague or a client.

MARK:

I find it fascinating. There was some real learning out of this and even just what you shared, but I picked up in the book as well. I am an extrovert. I have always sort of viewed introverts as, if you will, a behavioral situation, a behavioral issue. And I don’t want to say … It’s just different. But you’re talking about this processing, internal brain. I just found that absolutely fascinating. It really sheds some light on an issue for it. I liked that. What prompted you to write the book?

HEIDI:

Well, throughout my litigation career I always loved the legal research and writing aspects of my job, but I struggled with the performance oriented aspects of my job. As you can imagine, in the construction litigation world, performance matters. It’s a tough industry, you have these strong personalities and the cases I was dealing with would take about two years to do to trial from complaint filing all the way to the actual trial. We were dealing with a lot of depositions, a lot of discovery. It was very performance oriented, lots of negotiations. I struggled in those environments because, while I loved the research and writing and figuring out the complex contractual issues and the legal issues that happened in all of our cases, in those moments of performance I felt I had to mirror the other attorney’s behavior or the client’s behavior and a lot of times, as I mentioned these strong or tough personalities, and I just don’t have that personality.

For about 15 years of my career path I thought that was a weakness of mine or there was something wrong with me and I was the only nervous one in the room. And as I describe in the book, I have a blushing tendency, I flush, I turn red, my face gets blotchy when I’m nervous. So I have a really bad poker face in negotiations and in court room scenarios. Again, I always thought that was a flaw and what really prompted me to write this book and study this deeply in the legal context what when I transitioned to teaching, while I was litigating, I was working on a big case out in California and I was asked to start teaching a legal writing course at the same time. And I noticed that my strongest legal writers, my most thoughtful, analytical students were also my quiet ones and the most fearful of the performance scenarios, whether it’s the Socratic method in the classroom or a mandatory oral argument simulation.

And I finally thought, oh my goodness, Instead of giving these amazing students this message that maybe you’re not cut out for litigation or, if this is so stressful for you, maybe you should go do something else, which were messages that I heard and absorbed in my career. I thought, no, these are amazing thinkers, they’re great listeners, they’re hard workers, they’re creative problem solvers and we need to find a way to explain why certain performance scenarios are harder for some of us than other. And it doesn’t mean we’re not able to do it or we can’t be fantastic at it, we just need to understand ourselves better. So that’s what led me to study introversion and shyness and social anxiety in the legal context because no one had really talked about it in the legal profession. We obviously have the stereotype of lawyers being extroverted and confident and sort of gregarious and that’s not actually the case in every scenario. My goal was really to help quiet law students and junior associates who were worried maybe they weren’t cut out for our profession and empower them to know that yes they absolutely are and here are some tips for amplifying our voices in an authentic manor.

Throughout my career the mantras I always heard was, “Fake it till you make it,” or “Just do it,” that amazing Nike slogan. But those messages aren’t really helpful in the types of scenarios that I struggle with and also that I’m talking about here.

MARK:

And what I really enjoyed and another take-away, I guess, from the book is you really talk about the introverted lawyer has a different set of strengths or assets, if you will. I thought that was very interesting, can you kind of highlight what value, strengths do introverted lawyers bring to the profession?

HEIDI:

Yes, what I noticed and gleaned from all the resources that I studied, is that common themes pervade quiet individuals. If you’re thinking about introverts or even people who experience that shyness that I mentioned before. The experts on these issues show that these individuals are active listeners, they really can sit in a room, even with competing voices, and they’re listening to what these individuals are saying and they’re really focused on hearing what someone else is sharing. They’re, as I mentioned before, kind of deep thinkers, really methodical, slow, careful, thinkers, they’re processing all this information of a deep level. They also have a tendency towards creative problem solving. Because they’re listening and absorbing lots of different competing ideas, they’re capable of synthesizing those into solutions that maybe some of the individuals speaking are overlook in the moment. And that’s why it can also lead to really strong legal writing because when a person can be quiet and reflective and sort of work out a problem through writing, it can really illuminate solutions to legal problems that maybe aren’t apparent if we’re just debating and talking about them out loud in a verbal valet scenario.

Then one thing that really surprised me or stood out to me during my research was that these experts pointed out that quiet individuals also bring empathy to a human interaction. As a former construction litigator you might not think of empathy as being an important legal trait or a skill of an attorney. But I started remembering scenarios in my job where we were trying to resolve a conflict on a massive construction project and just to kind of take a step back for a minute and to have empathy and try and figure out what really is driving this conflict? It’s not the firing off of these angry emails that people do on construction jobs sometimes-

MARK:

Right.

HEIDI:

… but it’s really this human frustration that, on a random Tuesday on the job site, rain is pouring down and materials are late and everybody’s trying to get something done and it’s not working and trying to really understand from an empathy standpoint what’s really driving the conflict from a human perspective. I was excited to hear all these positive traits that quiet folks bring to the legal profession, that we sometimes don’t appreciate as much as, in my opinion, we should. Good lawyers need to be good listeners and not always speaking, we need to actually listen to the client who might be afraid to tell us what’s really going on. Then good lawyers need to deeply think about complicated legal concepts, the law is hard and we need people who can sort of take a quiet moment, find that difficult answer in a sea of research, take the time to write and reflect on the problem and write out the problem and come to a solution that might not be as obvious if we’re just talking about it. Things like that really stood out to me as amazing traits that quiet folks bring to our profession.

MARK:

Yeah, and when I think about all this myself, there are certainly the lawyers that we’ve been talking about, very, very aggressive and these kinds of things. I don’t know that that approach really serves our clients best. And I like the focus on taking the time to really go deep and explore and think through and look at the issues. What I hear is we’re placing … we’re moving away from the advocacy model toward a, what is really best for the client, problem solving model, both are necessary. But I really value where you’re going with all of this, I really do. I’d like to talk a little bit about the process that you describe in your book. You acknowledge that while introverts and otherwise quiet advocates can be pivotal, change agents for the profession. These lawyers still need to be able to jump into the fray and speak with assertiveness at times because it’s just called for, it’s necessary. And you developed a seven step process for, if you were amplifying the voice. Can you talk a little bit about these steps?

HEIDI:

Yes, as I mentioned, the messages that I absorbed over my trajectory and my career were always sort of just, “Fake it till you make it,” or, “Do these performance events 1000 times and it will get easier.” I tried those methods and they absolutely did not work for me, it never got easier and when I started studying this, the book, I realized it wasn’t getting easier because I was just hurdling myself into these scenarios without any self-awareness and not really understanding that my approach to the law is maybe different from an extroverted person. In developing the seven step process, it really broke down into a reflective plan and an action plan and really beginning to step into these performance events that we need to do as lawyers-

MARK:

Right.

HEIDI:

… we can’t just avoid-

MARK:

Of course.

HEIDI:

… performance or human interaction. But doing it with heightened self-awareness and then a conscience plan for each event. So the seven steps really developed into the first two steps being reflection on mental approached to these types of events and physical approaches. I was really excited when I started realizing how important the physical aspect of anxiety is, like what are we doing physically in an anticipation of these types of events that maybe isn’t that helpful to us, it’s instinctive what our bodies do physically, but it’s not always helpful. So step one is reflecting mentally on what we are hearing in our minds as we are approaching a law related performance event. Some lawyers might sort of resist going that direction and feel like, “Oh, I don’t want to get too touchy feely with my emotions.” But it’s so important to realize and reflect on and listen to what we tell ourselves in anticipation of a negotiation or court room appearance or a difficult conversation with the client, what messages are we hearing in our minds and then trying to pin point, “Wait, where have I heard that before and what’s the original source of that message because it absolutely is not the person who’s in front of us today.”

 

It really comes from this ingrained or entrenched mental messages that we’ve been telling ourselves for years and years and years. It’s really remarkable when you can realize, “Oh, this is not the law professor that I’m encountering or the judge or the intimidating opposing counsel or the strong personality client, this is a, perhaps well-meaning, mentor or coach or authority figure from high school or college or an earlier event in our professional careers. And it’s really tremendous when you can realize, “Oh, okay that message no longer has any relevance in my legal persona today.” But it takes us taking the time to listen to it and then we can sort of override it or delete it from our mental soundtrack. Step one is that reflection piece on the mental messages.

 

Step two is a physical reflection approach. And I mentioned my blushing problem before. To hide the blushing in my legal career, which I felt was a weakness of just this shiny red billboard of my fear, I used to hide it. I used to wear turtlenecks and scarves and try and hide myself, but physically that was just making my physically reactions worse because I was hot, I was feeling constricted. When I started doing step two, which is the physical reflection piece, you realize your body is just going into instinctive protective mode when you feel fear or anxiety. But what we do is we close ourselves off. We cross our legs or hunch our shoulders or constrict our bodies to get small and invisible. But all that’s doing is constricting our energy, our adrenaline, it’s preventing us from breathing clearly, it’s effecting the oxygen levels going to our brain, our blood is not flowing in a productive manor. But we don’t realize that’s happening to us until we take the time to reflect and monitor sort of minute-by-minute what we do instinctively in anticipation of a stressful moment. Step one and two are really the reflection piece.

 

Steps three and four are flipping those recognitions or those realizations and having a new plan. Step three is having a new mental action plan. And I kind of like to analogize to the fire fighter mantra of stop, drop, and roll. When we step into a performance event or anticipate one, those old messages are gonna show up they just do, they’ve been ingrained in us for years. But we hear them and realize, “Oh, wait a minute. I’m gonna stop. I’m not gonna listen to that and instead I’m gonna apply my new approach. I’ve prepared for this event, I know the case law or the statute of the client facts better than anyone in the room, I’ve done all this preparation, and I have something to say. I’m gonna do it my way.” And just having this new mental action plan for when those old messages creeped in.

Same thing when the physical action plan, which is step four. It’s knowing that our bodies are instinctively gonna try and close us off from the event and protect us. But having an athlete’s approach to the performance event, standing in a balanced stance, either at a podium or even in a seat at a conference table, opening up your channels of breathing oxygen flow, blood flow and giving your excess energy and place to go. It’s amazing in a performance moment when you realize, “Oh, I’m crossing my legs again. I need to sort of balance myself out and breathe. And it’s really incredible when you realize just by making subtle physical changes, you can breathe better and then your brain works better and everything just kind of flows in a positive direction.

And then steps five, six, and seven are really just building on that for the long-term. Step five is about developing, what the experts call, and exposure agenda. When I first read about the term exposure, I thought this sounds dangerously like just do it, just expose yourself to these scary events and everything will be fine. But exposure in the psychology perspective is stepping into these moments with self-awareness and a plan and it’s really looking at law related scenarios that might give some of us anxiety, consciously prioritizing them from least anxiety producing to most anxiety producing. And then having a real conscious mental plan and physical plan for each event incrementally. And then stepping into each event with purpose and the plan.

And then step six gets even more nitty gritty and tangible with each event and that is designed to have, to use an athlete metaphor, a pregame plan and a game day plan for each of those events, trying to put yourself in the scenario, substantively, mentally, and physically if you can go to the space, go to the room if that’s possible, check out the seating arrangements, the podium, is there a microphone, what’s lighting like, how many people are gonna be there, and just anticipating different situations that normally might derail us but now we can take more control.

And then step seven is just a reflection after each event and figuring out positively what worked great and maybe what you can make some subtle changes to for the next event.

MARK:

What I liked about … again, as an extrovert approaching this material, I think there’s a lot of value to it for non-introverts as well. I really like this aspect of self-reflection and trying to understand, both emotionally and physically, why we do what we do. I think sometimes people are very aggressive for fears and all kinds of things. You see where I’m going. I love the whole model that you’ve developed here.

HEIDI:

Thank you.

MARK:

Can you talk a little bit about … the temptation, if you will, is to say, okay. We’ve talked about some of the strengths are introverted lawyers have. Does that, from your perspective, do you think limits that areas of practice that introverted lawyers can really excel in? Do you see where I’m going with this?

HEIDI:

Right. Not at all. I don’t feel the introverts should limit themselves to the types of areas of legal practice or really any aspects of legal practice. To be honest, those were the kind of messages that I either heard or I misinterpreted that, “Well, why did you do into litigation if you were nervous about taking a deposition?” Or, “Why did you go into construction law if you didn’t want to fight like a champion?” And I don’t think those are productive messages at all because in my experience and working on myself. I realized introverted and quiet individuals can do any aspect of law, they just need to have better self-awareness or enhanced self-awareness of their strength and also scenarios that might cause them some particular challenges, how to step in to those challenges with force and amplification, but in an authentic manner, not trying to fake extroversion or mirror the behavior of a really boisterous gregarious person, but instead stepping into the scenario as a calm, quieter figure but with power. And it was eye-opening when I realize, a quiet individual can be a very tremendous voice in a negotiation or in the courtroom. We don’t all have to be boisterous and gregarious to be effective.

That was a huge realization for me. I definitely do not think that introverts should only go into transactional law, for instance, because transactional law requires a lot of performance, so you’re really not cutting out those performance scenarios. But I also feel that if we encourage introverts to limit their interest, we’re missing out on a tremendous body of voices that have great ideas for any aspect and any area of practice if that law and that’s not what we should be doing. We should be including these voices in all aspects of our legal profession. What’s been fun and exciting throughout this journey with this book is talking to extroverts who were open to understanding introverts better so they can better manage teams and understand that having both introverts and extroverts on a legal team, whether it’s in transactional work or a litigation is an asset because you’re bringing these different minds together to solve problems in different ways, and that’s really gonna serve the client better. Rather than us all trying to be this one stereotypical lawyer.

MARK:

Let’s follow up on that just a little bit because I will confess that I have been one of these people that will say, or at least out of naivety had this thought, that but do it kind of a thing. You know what I … what advice do you have for manager partners or supervision attorneys in terms of recruiting and developing a talented pool of introverted lawyers?

HEIDI:

I’ve been really excited to hear how open so many managing partners and leaders are in learning more about different personality types and being vulnerable themselves and looking to see if, are they really extroverted or have they just been acting extroverted all these years. I think the more that law office leaders or law firm leaders or legal profession leaders understand that we are not all the same, but getting a little touchy feely I guess with personality traits and understanding the assets that different diverse individuals bring to the profession is a huge first step. Just realizing, okay, we’re not all the same and that’s a good thing. Then I’ve also been trying to study and understand how to encourage law firm leaders and law office leaders to acknowledge the presence of fear in lawyering because there are many scenarios that we encounter in the practice of law that are just scary, and they’re scarier for some of us than others.

It really accomplishes a great deal when a law firm leader can say to junior associates, “Hey, look I realize that some lawyering scenarios are gonna be scarier for some of you than others, that is okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for this. But let’s talk about that and really figure out what is it about this particular deposition or negotiations or client scenario that’s troubling you and let’s talk about the tactical aspects of it.” Not always the substantive preparation because I think all of us endeavor to work as hard as we can on the substance of the law, that really being honest about the mental aspects of our job, that tactical scenarios that we don’t always teach in law school, and we assume that junior attorneys can just figure out in the field. Managing partners and law firm leaders, really sit down openly and talk with junior attorneys about the reality of fear in lawyering and provide helpful advice and mentoring on how to handle those scenarios without judgment, without making it seem like a weakness. I think that will really go to great lengths to help the well-being of our profession and help everybody perform better and serve our clients in a really fantastic way.

MARK:

I have one final question I’m very curious about. You’ve come out at the end of an interesting journey, and we have the book here. Knowing what you know now, if you were to go back and do it all over again, in terms of your career, would you do anything different?

HEIDI:

I would have been so much healthier. If I had known all this then, I would have been able to take the pressure off of myself to prepare for depositions and trial work and client scenarios in a way that made it okay for me to turn red in a deposition and keep going, keep going with my plan, don’t let my nerves make me feel weak or like I’m not but out for this. And I so wish I could go back and redo all of those scenarios and just be able to talk myself through those scenarios realizing you are substantively prepared, you know what you’re doing, you have a voice, you’re entitled to do it your way and not try and mirror the guys across the table, don’t worry about if you’re blushing, it doesn’t matter, you’re doing a good substantive job. And I think I would have had a much healthier journey through my twenties and my thirties. But I think all of that experience led me to the place that I am now and I’m very happy in my job, I love teaching legal writing, it’s a powerful medium for lawyers to communicate and this book has really taught me how introverts and shy and socially anxious law students can really change our profession if somebody just takes a moment to tell them, “You can do this.” And that’s been very exciting.

MARK:

We are at the end of our time here. I’d like to say, Professor Brown, thank you so much. It really has been a pleasure. To our listeners, I hope you found something of value and interest today out of this conversation. And if in future you have any ideas for topic or if you have questions or concerns you’d like to see addressed in one of our podcasts, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at mbass@alpsnet.com. Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

 

Heidi K. Brown is a graduate of The University of Virginia School of Law, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School, and a former litigator in the construction industry. Having struggled with extreme public speaking anxiety and the perceived pressure to force an extroverted persona throughout law school and nearly two decades of law practice, she finally embraced her introversion and quiet nature as a powerful asset in teaching and practicing law. She is the author of a two-volume legal writing book series entitled The Mindful Legal Writer, won a Global Legal Skills award for her work in helping law students overcome public speaking anxiety in the context of the Socratic Method and oral arguments, and was appointed to the Fulbright Specialist roster to teach English legal writing in international law schools. As the author of The Introverted Lawyer, Heidi champions the power of quiet law students and lawyers to be profoundly impactful advocates, in their authentic voices.