My Struggle for Perfectionism: The Myths and Realities of Being a Young Lawyer is a great read, about a topic which covers one of the challenges facing our profession. I sometimes joke to audiences that one of the problems with being a lawyer is we only have two standards of conduct: perfection and malpractice. That often gets a chuckle, if not a very loud chuckle. But that is how many lawyers feel. We acknowledge our imperfections as human beings, but we also have the professional standard that all legal work should be error-free.
Wikipedia defines perfectionism:
Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations. It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects. In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal, and their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.
I will note in passing the higher-than-average rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide within the legal profession.
“Perfect is the enemy of good’ is an often-quoted principle relating back to the time of Voltarie. Many business management books talk about the concept of “good enough,” contrasting it with the pursuit of perfection that actually drives down profits.
I’m not about to try and convince lawyers that their legal work shouldn’t be perfect. We all know it should be. But take a few moments to read some wisdom from a young lawyer in Wisconsin and try to make sure that your entire life is not ruled by perfectionism.