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#233: 5 Thoughts Sabotaging Your Law Practice

Every thought we have either moves us closer to or further away from our the goals we have for our law practice.

In this episode, I'm sharing 5 (okay, really 7) thoughts that sabotage the way lawyers:

  • approach their work
  • show up for clients
  • bill their work, and
  • prioritize their time

This impacts how much money you make and ultimately how you feel when you show up in your practice day-to-day.

Listen in to make sure you don't let these common thoughts negatively impact your law practice.


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Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.

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Hello my friend, How are you? Today we are going to be talking about five ways you may be sabotaging your practice and they are really sneaky. I coach my clients on these and they may be showing up for you. So I wanna bring them into your awareness because once you get them into your awareness, then you can do something about them.

Our thoughts impact everything about our life, including how we practice the law, how we interact with clients, how much work we get done, all of it. They really help us or hinder us depending upon the kinds of thoughts that we have and the thoughts that are sabotaging us are the ones that really limit what is possible for us, which is the perfect segue for me to talk to you about my new masterclass for lawyers all about goals.
And I'm gonna help you avoid the five pitfalls of the way your mind works the way that you think when you're setting goals and following through on them. I really want you to join me for this because if you haven't set a goal for 2023, maybe you are goal averse, maybe you have set a goal or you've set a goal in the past and you haven't hit it and you're kind of a little cautious about whether or not you want to set another goal or maybe you are all in, you have a goal and you are determined to meet it this year, this is going to be the perfect place for you to get your mind right going into 2023 and I sell you on why a goal is important in a limited time bonus episode that I did earlier this week.

I'll link to it in the show notes. But really a goal is a great way to help us focus our mind and it's a great way to help us notice some of these thoughts that may be sabotaging us. And I'm gonna be like really shining a light on those thoughts in this masterclass two so that you can start addressing them and you could start making the changes that you wanna make starting right now. So go to dina cataldo.com/goals and sign up for this masterclass. I made a point of setting up three separate times that I will be doing this masterclass this week so you are sure to find one if you are, you know, showing up this episode's coming out November 10th. And if you are listening to it when it comes out, you're gonna have the 10th, the 11th, and the 13th to choose from.

So choose one of those dates and show up live. Okay? You won't wanna miss this because I'm gonna be taking questions at the end to help you with whatever you need to help you get clarity on your next steps. And this is really gonna help you see the thoughts that might get in the way along the road to you achieving your goal. They are ones that are little roadblocks that I hit along the way and I wanna make your life easier because my life could have been so much easier if I just knew about coaching, I just knew about thought work and I could then address these things ahead of time. So go to dina cataldo.com/goals and you'll get all the info and that's where you can sign up and get your link to join me live. All right, so let's talk about these five areas that I see lawyers sabotaging themselves in with these thoughts.

These thoughts that really when reframed can become thoughts that are helpful for us. So I'm gonna call the thoughts that are not helpful, helpful for us, the ones that are sabotaging what we wanna create or negatively impacting what we wanna create. I'm gonna call 'em garbage thoughts cuz they're garbage and we really do need to throw 'em out. So what's a garbage thought? They are thoughts that aren't helpful and have a negative impact on how we show up. A garbage thought is normal, we all have them, okay? Every single one of us, there's no way we can just like hit delete on them. You start to get better and better at noticing them and you have them and then they no longer influence the direction that you're taking your practice, your work, whatever it is. I want you to think about these garbage thoughts, um, as sunglasses.

Okay? If we have a garbage thought all day long, it's like wearing a pair of sunglasses all day long. We're seeing everything just a little bit darker. Small things become big annoyances, minor irritations become major tantrums. This used to be me. So no judgment if you, if you find this to be true for you, are garbage thoughts bad? No, they're not necessarily bad, but they do make our lives a lot harder. They don't feel good, right? We'll usually feel things like anxiety, pressure, shame when we have these kinds of garbage thoughts I'm gonna be talking about today and our thoughts are what create our feelings. So if we feel bad there is something happening in our brain that is creating that. I like to think of these garbage thoughts as an opportunity to improve something, an opportunity to grow. And once we start noticing 'em, that is when we start to have those opportunities.

How do we get rid of garbage thoughts? Sometimes clients, uh, talk to me and we kind of joke around like about this because they think shouldn't there just be a magic off switch to these garbage thoughts? So I wish there were, I wish I could tell you that we could just hit delete and we would never have these thoughts again. But it's a lot like a GPS system, right? I want you to think about the neuro pathways in our brain, like roads on the street. We might go to work one way the same time the same way every single day and then on another day we go in a different direction, right? But then if we're not consciously thinking about that new direction, we're gonna default to the old way of getting to the office. The streets don't disappear magically. We just make a decision to move our car in a different direction.

And that is very much what it's like when we have been thinking garbage thoughts for years. Those roads don't just magically disappear. But what we do get when we get the awareness around these thoughts when we get coaching around these thoughts is we get the ability to consciously move our thoughts away from them so that we can decide to behave differently because our thoughts create our feelings and then our feelings are always going to fuel our actions. I'm gonna be giving you some specific examples of this with my clients. Um, things that we've talked about where their garbage thoughts have been influencing their actions. All right? So once the way that you're really gonna be starting to rewire, right? You're gonna start going down the street you want to consciously, the first thing you've gotta do is notice them. So listening to this podcast is gonna help you with that.

And then hearing the examples, hearing where they show up for you, that's going to help you with that too. But then once you notice them, it's up to you to manage your brain. That's what I teach my clients and one of the biggest things I see is that when they don't manage their brain, they beat up on themselves. So it's really important to recognize that having these garbage thoughts is not wrong. It's not bad, it's very normal part of it's very human. I have them too. So know that you've gotta be compassionate with yourself and know that this is a practice. This is something that is, you know, you just show up every day. You do it imperfectly. You do not have to be perfect, okay? A lot of times that's what hinders us is us believing. I'm gonna offer you a sixth thought free here.

A sabotage thought free. So like just thinking that we need to be perfect is going to sabotage your pro progress. It's better to show up imperfectly and do it consistently rather than think you need to be perfect and then just give up because you're not being quote unquote perfect at it. I see this happen a lot. So I wanna just give this to you now so you have that awareness. You don't have to be perfect at this. You just keep showing up totally imperfectly, totally human. And one of the things that these five thoughts that I'm gonna share with you really will show you is that we need to be more objective about how we think about what's going on in our brain. And we think in law school we're getting trained to be objective, but that's not really what's happening. What's happening in law school is we're taught to see our perspective in as a lawyer when we're reviewing a case and we're taught to see what opposing counsel's view might be.

And then when you take this a step further, you're also thinking about what conclusions a jury might potentially draw or a judge might potentially draw that you are not arguing or defense counsel isn't arguing. Okay, this sounds like it would be pretty objective, right? But there's something that we don't see that we're not objective about, which is what's going on in our brain. Okay? We might be able to see the facts of the case objectively, but we are not seeing how we think about the case objectively, right? Here's what I mean by that. A lot of times we'll have thoughts like this case is a loser, they're gonna beat us, it's a winner case. There's no way anyone could side with the defendant. Those thoughts are not inherently objective, we just don't see them as thoughts. We think that they are true, that they are reality.

We think we are reporting the news. And if you've ever thought you had a dead bang winner case and you lost the case, then you know you fell into this trap. The thoughts that we have influence how we approach cases. And this is so important to understand because it influences how you grow your practice, how much money you make, how many billables you're making, all of the things that are going into your casework, how anxious and pressured you feel when you procrastinate on a, on a matter whether or not you do a calendar, whether or not you follow through on a calendar. These thoughts are essential for seeing and that's what I help my clients with because we're so close to the problem, we can't see it. We think that we are just saying yep, this case as a loser and it's absolutely a loser.

And that's the very first one I wanna start you with here is because I had a client who had something very similar happen and when we unraveled it, she was very wrong. We got objective, uh, her thoughts objective on the matter and then she was able to proceed in a better way. So let's talk about the situation number one, case work. So my client told herself that the case she was arguing was gonna be a loser and she was procrastinating on it, right? Because when we think a case is a loser, we just feel horrible. We feel disappointed, we feel, we already feel like we're losing like we've already lost. And when we feel that way, we're not going to have an incentive to work on the matter promptly. And so she was procrastinating on doing research, she wasn't asking for help, she wasn't working on the project and she really wasn't reading the facts of the case.

She just kind of glossed over them. She wasn't looking at the objective facts of the case because her brain was telling her this case is a loser. And because she took her thoughts to our call, we had an opportunity to unravel her thoughts and helped her get into action so she could ultimately win the case. But she had to understand she was wearing sunglasses when she was looking at this case and those sunglasses were shading how she was reading the cases, how she was reading the opposing counsel's brief. And once she took 'em off, she could begin to read the facts objectively. She could begin to formulate arguments that were more methodical, right? She could actually sit down and think about the case versus just worry how she's gonna lose and what people are gonna think about her. So what she was concerned about and the whole reason she brought this to the call is cuz she knew what was gonna happen.

She could already see it, right? She's, she's been working with me for a little while so she could understand, okay, this is what my brain does, it has thoughts like this and then I procrastinate and then at the very end I'm spending the night before working on this case and the brief isn't gonna be as good, I'm not gonna be as proud of my work and I want my work to be excellent cuz she's an excellent attorney. All of my clients are. So what we wanted to do was really unravel what was going on bit by bit so that she could then start taking action on this brief. And before we coached on this, she already saw herself procrastinating. Um, and she would've just created a situation that was gonna feel horrible for her. She was gonna feel a lot of pressure and anxiety getting the work done, but really it was, the thought that was sabotaging her was that this case is a loser, right?

This case is a loser. There's no way I'm gonna win. I'm gonna look stupid, right? Those are all the things that happen when when we're concerned that a case is a loser, oftentimes what's really going on is that we're concerned how it's gonna look when we lose the case. Like it was our fault versus focusing our attention away from us and onto the client and the case matter. And so that's what we needed to do and that's what to look out for If you notice yourself having subjective beliefs about a case and you might think these thoughts and believe 100%, it's true this case is a loser, this case is a winner. There's no way we're gonna win this case, whatever it is. But it's up to you to see those thoughts and diffuse them and say Hold on, time out. I don't know what's gonna happen on this case for sure cuz it's really not up to me.

The facts are the facts and if I don't just take a look at the facts with a clear head, I am not going to move forward on this case the way I want to. So let's just take a timeout, let's take a couple breaths and then let's start looking at the facts of the case without thinking in my head, this case is a loser. You don't have to think it's a winner, but when you think it's a loser, you are not gonna take the actions that you want. You're totally gonna sabotage yourself. And then there's a second area that I see this in is when it comes to clients and building your practice. And I talked about this in a prior episode. Um, I have a client, Nancy, and she brought one of her frustrations to a couple calls with me and that was a client that she had who used a red pen to mark up some of the documents that she gave to a client who came to her.

She has an estate planning practice. I actually did an interview with her a few episodes back that I'll link to in the show notes so you can grab, you can listen to that there. But she was really making it mean when she saw those red marks that this client didn't respect her and didn't think she was gonna do a good job. And really right when we got even a step under that in our coaching sessions, she was making it mean that she really wasn't a good attorney and that she really couldn't do a good job for him. And she was having a lot of self doubt based upon the red pen that he used or him using this red pen on documents. I mean she was going so far as to thinking like maybe I should just fire him. It's kind of like that situation where we wanna reject somebody before they reject us is the same situation.

And she was doing that because she wanted to avoid feeling pain. She wanted to change the circumstances so that she could feel better. But that's not how it works. We can't change circumstances to feel better. It's how we think about the circumstances that helps us feel better. And so we got objective on it. I started asking her, So what is it about this red pen? Why is this impacting you in this way? And it turned out when she thought back on it, she actually had a partner who had critiqued her work in red pen when she was a young attorney. And she took with her all the thoughts she had when she was a young attorney. How she really wasn't that, you know, she really needed a lot of work that she really wasn't that great and she took that into present day and she'd been practicing for years.

It was just fascinating what our brain does. It really lies to us. But we've, when we get objective about it, then we can begin to unravel what the thought is doing. Because if she didn't unravel this thought, she would've fired this client, right? Or she would've just procrastinated on the work to the last minute, creating a lot of pressure on herself to get the work done, resenting this guy the whole way. And she had even discussed possibly in the future red flagging people who did things like this so that she wouldn't ever have to work for people like this again. And this was fascinating because that would've stymied her growth in her firm, right? She wouldn't have as many clients versus if she just understood like this is what my brain does when I see a red pen or I, I see somebody correct my work, I immediately think it has to do with me and that somehow I'm a bad attorney.

But that's not true at all. It's just a thought that she has that comes up and once she identifies it, then she can diffuse it and she can keep growing her practice and she can keep these people who ended up being really nice, they ended up bringing her cookies to the office. So I just want you to know our brains lie to us and we've gotta watch out for these sabotaging thoughts. Another uh, actually these are a couple more thoughts, okay? About billables, right? This is the third area I wanna talk to you about, which is billables and also has to do with calendars. So I have a client who had been working on creating a calendar and she had done it successfully multiple weeks and she saw a big difference. She felt better. She just showed up every day a lot better. She was noticing she was getting more billables done, everything just felt easier.

But then she stopped and we talked about it and she felt a lot of shame about it. But that was okay. It's very normal by the way, if you start a habit and you stop, okay? Because our brain goes into perfectionism like I talked earlier in this episode, we'll we'll see it do it done right a couple times and then the third time we'll make a mistake and we'll say, Okay, well I'll just throw it out the window cause it's not working. Versus when I coach my clients, we really talk about how to approach a calendar like a scientist would approach their calendar like without the judgment and just starting to look out what would be helpful. When I started coaching my client on her calendar, what we ca realized, what she realized was that she was resentful of the time that she spent on the calendar.

Had nothing to do with the calendar itself. She just resented that she spent another hour on her weekend doing work because she associated the calendar with her office work. When we started to reframe that and we started to get an objective perspective on it, she realized the calendar really wasn't for the office, it was for her because she felt so much better. She really enjoyed herself when she had the calendar, everything seemed so much easier for her and she wanted to do this for herself. So then when she reframed it with the objective perspective of, look, this time has nothing to do with the office. Yeah, I get stuff done at the office and that's great, but it's for me because I wanna feel better. Then she started putting that time down on the weekend and then getting her calendar done. And there was another client that I had who was saying, Okay, billables, right?

Cause what we do when I, when I work with my clients, we structure, um, hours on their calendar where they can have some focus time on their billables and we also work on contemporaneous billing because that's so much easier at the end of the month, you're not really, really dragging and trying to figure out all of your hours. So when we are talking about billables, one of the things that'll come up and what came up with this client was that ones seem really hard, right? And the thought that the sabotages people when they don't mark down point ones on their their bills, is that 0.1 billables are useless. Like what's the point? That's the thought I hear lawyers come to me with. And when I started talking to this client about, okay, well then you don't have to bill them if you don't want to, right?

Why would you want to? She said, Well, it would really actually have a big impact because I do at least an hour of billables every single day. So really 0.1, billables, were easy billables, you get an easy hour out of them. And so if she reframed objectively this thought from 0.1, billables are useless to wait a minute, I get at least one hour of billables every single day from these point ones. So that's an easy billable. Then she was able to start contemporaneously billing. But if we're not watching out for these sabotaging thoughts, we cannot make those changes. So if you are having this thought, I'm gonna offer that thought to you is that these point ones are actually easy billing. The fourth area that I wanna talk to you about is obtaining clients, right? When we think about networking, we all have different thoughts and the ones that come to me from my clients are usually ones like, they are gonna think that I just wanna align my pockets.

They think that I'm just gonna want something, I don't wanna be salesy. And those are the thoughts that are preventing them from connecting with people who might be part of the expansion of their business. They feel icky. But I wanna share with you, networking is not inherently icky. It's how we think about networking that creates the feeling of ickiness. Okay? I don't know, ickiness, is that a feeling that's in the dictionary? I don't know. But if you've ever thought about networking and you feel icky, that's what it feels like. Hey, it's like an, it's like an anxiousness. It's like the this feeling that really prevents you from connecting with people. A feeling that prevents you from even having a casual conversation with someone because in your mind you're thinking, oh, they're gonna think I'm trying to sell them something versus it's just you being a human being talking to someone about human things.

I did a whole episode on this in adventures of networking, which I, in networking that I will link to in the show notes. So I'm not gonna go further into this, but be very aware of how you think about networking or building your client base or showing up on LinkedIn, anything like that because those thoughts are thoughts that may be sabotaging the growth of your practice. All right, so number five, I am going to be fired. That is a sabotaging thought if I ever heard one, right? I am shocked at how many lawyers come to me with this thought. So if you've had it, know that you are very, very normal <laugh>, you are extremely normal. Um, when I thought about it, it even showed up with me when I was practicing law. But the problem with this thought is, is that we feel so much fear, anxiety, worry that it is really unlikely to help us create work product that is going to get us noticed in a positive way.

We're more likely to ruminate worry when we get home, right? So we're not even enjoying the downtime when we're at home. So we don't show up fresh at the office and when we're at the office, we're worried that we're not working hard enough. So we may be doing a lot of busy work that isn't necessarily the most impactful work or you may stay late at the office avoiding those things that are the most rejuvenating to you, like working out or going out to dinner with girlfriends, whatever it is, you may not do those things because part of your brain is telling you, I could be fired and I should really just be sitting at my desk doing more work. I'm gonna do a whole podcast episode on this eventually, um, because I just hear this come up so often in my sessions. But I wanna put this thought on your radar because it is definitely a sabotaging thought.

And one of the things that um, I talk to my clients about is let's look at the objective facts because there's very much a difference between um, a partner or a client who says, I am going to fire you versus you making inferences. Okay? So I've had clients tell me that their boss said, If you don't win this case, then the people in the company are going to be losing their jobs. And my client drew the inference that she could be losing her job and she was worrying about that and ruminating about it and it wasn't helping her perform in her case the way she wanted to. But when we started to get objective about it, she started saying, you know, there's actually no way I would be fired because I'm essential to other matters in this firm because I actually have a really great history with this firm and I am very capable at my job.

So there really is no I won't be fired, is what her conclusion was. But her first reaction, which was extremely normal, was that she was fearful she would be fired. I mean, our brain's whole job is to keep us safe. That's why we're alive right now. Our brain has done a great job of it, but sometimes it will create these sabotaging thoughts out of fear and then it's up to us to start managing our mind around those thoughts and say, Okay, what are the actual words that my boss, my client used? Okay, what am I saying that they mean okay? Or like, what am I making it mean that they said those words? And then when we start to think about it, we can always say, Okay, is that the truth? Okay, if they said that some people from my firm or from this other company were going to be laid off if they lost this case for the company, does that mean that I'm going to be fired?

Maybe, but is it likely okay? And then you're able to go into, okay, what are the, the realities of this situation? And for me, what helps is that I look at what is my worst case scenario. I'll just tell you right now, my worst case scenario is like living on the street, eating out of a can and having nothing but like a tent in a blanket like that is my worst fear. And I can look logically when I get into fear mode about anything that's going on in my life and just say, Wait a minute, what's my worst case scenario? My worst case scenario is living on the street with a can of beans. Okay? Is that likely to happen? No. Why not? Okay, because I have a savings plan because I know how to create money because I know how to apply for a job.

You know, like because I have all of these assets, because I have friends who would never let me live on the street. I have all of these thoughts to help me reframe my mind, get my mind back on board and move away from the sabotaging thoughts that are not going to help me get into action. Because all of all the sabotaging thoughts we talked about, and I'm gonna recap them in just a second, are thoughts that are not going to help you get into action. They are going to create procrastination, right? You're gonna feel anxious, you're gonna feel worried, you're gonna maybe feel overwhelmed or pressured and you are going to take actions that are going to sabotage your practice. Whether it's firing clients unnecessarily or procrastinating on your work or um, not doing the networking that you wanna do to grow your practice. Whatever it is, it is not going to create the result that you want.

Okay, so let's recap the five thoughts. I actually think I have like six or seven of the thoughts as I was going through this podcast that can sabotage how you show up in your practice. So the very first one that we talked about was that you have this thought that you need to show up perfectly. You do not need to show up perfectly. You can show up imperfectly and do it consistently and you will actually get a better impact because if you think it needs to be perfect and you just stop showing up, you will not get the long term compound effects of just showing up imperfectly. The second thought that can sabotage your practice is thinking about your case like it's a loser. That there's no way you're gonna win it. It prevents you from being being objective about the facts of the case.

The third thought that you could have that could sabotage the growth of your practice is this client doesn't think I'm a good attorney. That their actions mean that they think that I don't know what I'm doing. Like that is a thought that is going to prevent you from growing your practice. You may wanna fire clients unnecessarily. Just recognize that your thoughts are what are generating the feelings that you're having and if you are feeling defensive, if you are feeling resentful, those are some key things to look for when you may be thinking the thoughts that they don't think I'm a good attorney. Point one billables are useless. That's another thought that came up here. And that 0.1 billables aren't worth billing. And of course when we reframe that and we see how they add up, you get at least an hour a day and that becomes an easy billable.

The fifth thought that we went through was, I shouldn't have to do one more hour for the office. Okay? That was a client who was thinking that she didn't have the time to devote to the calendar and that that time she was resentful of giving because she thought that it was for the office. When she got objective, she recognized that hour was actually for her because she wanted to feel a certain way during the week. And that calendar, taking the action of making the time for it really helped her create intentionally the week that she wanted to have. The sixth thought that we have here is that they're gonna think that I want something. And so that thought is inhibiting the growth of your practice if you are preventing it from you showing up at networking events, connecting with people authentically showing up on LinkedIn.

And the last thought that we went through was, I'm gonna be fired, which is a thought that a lot of lawyers have. And just remember to look at the facts of what has been said to you and then what are you making? Whatever was said to you mean. Now you may have actually been told those words, that's one thing, but very often there will not be words like that that were spoken by their boss. It's an inference that the attorney is making and the attorney is not making a correct inference because they're not being objective. And even if they are correct that that is something that is on the horizon, why would you want to keep thinking that thought? Because it is inhibiting you from showing them what you're capable of and how you can can contribute to the firm. It's inhibiting you from generating the kind of value that you can for your clients and for your firm.

So just recognize that all of these thoughts are a hundred percent optional and they are thoughts that you have control of. Once you get aware of them and you start learning how to manage your mind. If you want help managing your mind, learning how to really preempt some of these thoughts, rewire your brain, I wanna invite you to a strategy session because when we talk, we are going to start unraveling right away some of the thoughts that are between you and where you wanna be. And during our call, you are gonna start uncovering some of the thoughts that are sabotaging where it is you wanna go right now, where you wanna be in your life. So when you book a call, go to dina cataldo.com/strategy session and then I'm gonna email you and just like check in. But you don't have to show up with any work.

I have all the questions. I'm just gonna poke and prod at your brain a little bit, ask you some questions, and then we're gonna get a game plan going. Whether or not you decide to work with me because maybe working with me is not the right decision for you and that's okay. What we really wanna do is get a game plan for you. Either way you wanna work with me, great. But if not, we will get some resources together to start helping you move in the direction that you wanna go. I'll write my friends, I will talk to you soon. I hope you have a wonderful week. Bye.