When trying to progress in your legal career, fake it till you make it

With the disruption of technology and the competitive legal industry demanding more of its ranks, a lawyer today, more than ever, needs to be a jack of all trades, a technology guru, all while providing business and risk advice.

Daniel Lo

This is probably not the first time you have heard the phrase “fake it till you make it.” It is probably not even the first time you have been told to do it when asking for advice on how to master a role or task. It is a phrase that has been debated on its merits time and time again. I would like to contribute to this discussion and explain why this thinking process is still highly effective and relevant. With the disruption of technology and the competitive legal industry demanding more of its ranks, a lawyer today, more than ever, needs to be a jack of all trades, a technology guru, all while providing business and risk advice.

“Faking it” almost becomes the name of the game.   

What does it mean?

Act as if you are something even before you become it. Act as though you know how to do something even before you’ve mastered it.

Many people hesitate and overthink to the point where they forgo opportunities presented to them, thinking they cannot fulfil the task or lack the capacity to do so. However, numerous studies have shown that changing your behaviour first will impact the way you think and feel. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School social psychologist, shared her findings on the correlation between striking a power standing posture and feelings of dominance and confidence in her influential 2012 TED Talk. She found that those who maintained a power stance showed a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol and an increase in testosterone, which is related to confidence. She summarizes that our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves.


I should clarify that faking it does not mean being ingenuine, inauthentic or fake. It merely means changing your behaviour first and hoping that your actions will catch up. Faking it also does not mean being unnecessarily pretentious in the hopes of showing your worth to others and hoping that respect will follow because of your behaviour. There is a fine line.

Also, faking it only works if you know there is something within you that is holding you back and that changing it is possible.


How will it help?

When you start pretending to know something, you are engaging in an active 360 mindset. For example, if I was asked to review a document that I have never seen, I would start thinking about how to approach this task so that I can provide comments as if I have seen this document a million times, approaching it from all sides.

I would start to pull up similar precedent documents and compare and contrast, speak to other lawyers that have seen this type of document, think like the assigning lawyer and what they would look out for and understand more deeply what the document is intended to achieve and how it ties in with the client’s objectives.

The point is you will start to engage in creative and active thinking to solve your problems. It is a process that you may not be forced to engage in unless you have put yourself out there as knowing something even if you do not. It is like when you are thrown in the deep end of an assignment by partners and you either sink or swim; the fight or flight in you starts to kick in.

In our case, you are proactively putting yourself in these often stressful yet manageable situations so that you practise performing at a high level and to add value.  

When you actively faked something and the result was a success, you start to engage in a more optimistic view on your abilities and will start to think “if I can do this, what else can I do?”

When the faking hasn’t succeeded, reassess and try again. Of course, be careful not to overreach. For example, pretending you are a senior cross-border tax counsel when you only did one rotation in the tax group helps no one.


How can I start?

You can change little things in your behaviour that can push you to accomplish little victories in your day-to-day activities.

Dress for the job you want

 Put a little effort into how you look at work, such as making sure your clothes fit well and are properly ironed, your shoes are polished and your hair is groomed.

You will not only see a difference in how your colleagues approach you but you will also show up to work like you are there to be taken seriously.

Start your day on an upbeat note

So, it is raining and gloomy and you have a ton of issues to deal with waiting on your desk. Put on your favourite upbeat music right from the moment you get up until you step in to the office. Get pumped to tackle the day.

You will be surprised how listening to a few upbeat tracks can really lift your spirits and soon enough you won’t be faking happy. Sometimes, I mix it up by putting on a podcast that I enjoy, as it will make me just as happy to hear a particular podcaster’s voice or listening to interesting topics (NPR podcasts are great for this) as it does to hear music I enjoy.   

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

I cannot stress the importance of mentorship and the impact this has on both a mentor and mentee. It is a process I wish all law firms and companies focused on. In lieu of a formal or informal mentor/mentee relationship, start to mimic those you admire and who have certain skillsets you want to acquire such as the stylistic nuances in writing emails to clients, the way they approach the start of a transaction or the tone they use when interacting with the rest of the staff in the office. 

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