“I don’t know…”
I don’t know why this is so freaking hard for lawyers to say.
Why do we hold ourselves to the impossible standard of knowing everything, all the time? Is it ego? Fear of failure? The truth is I don’t know. There, I said it again, and it didn’t hurt.
It’s OK to not know something. It’s OK to sometimes feel insecure and uncertain.
To be sure, lawyers hate appearing weak or soft, and not knowing something suggests that. But real might reside in accepting your imperfection. Having the confidence to look someone in the eye and tell them that you don’t know something––that is the realm of true strength.
This even applies to your own internal dialogue. When you are uncertain about something, rather than kidding yourself with false thinking, admit your ignorance and figure out how to correctly assess the situation. Admit your ignorance even to yourself!
And when a client asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, instead of masking your uncertainty with double-talk, be honest and tell them you need to look it up. No excuses are necessary.
Or when you’re standing at the bench and you are asked about a case you don’t know, tell the judge you are unfamiliar with that case and if the court wants, you’d be glad to address it in a supplemental brief.
There are many things I don’t know. But this I do know…
If you work hard to be the most prepared lawyer in the courtroom, when you don’t know something, it actually works in your favor. If you have a history of being honest and knowledgeable, and you admit you don’t know something, you will then come across as even more credible, more sincere, and more human. Then your weakness becomes strength, your frailty becomes your power.
Be that lawyer, the one who is human.