Think on your feet

Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.

Thinking on your feet is required when you are an attorney.  It’s also pretty darn helpful when you are interviewing for jobs and networking.   Most people believe that thinking on your feet isn’t something you can learn to do, or train to do better.  I disagree.

I tested this theory after my first year of law school.  After being “socratized” time and again, I figured that I could always use a little more practice thinking quickly.  My thought was that practicing improvisation would help me sharpen my ability to think on my feet and would make me more comfortable with public speaking.  So, that summer I took an improv class at Comedy Sportz in Chicago.  It was something I had always wanted to do, but the idea of acting silly in front of a bunch of strangers seemed odd, especially when I had just spent the year acting serious in front of my peers.  I’m glad I did it because it was a great experience.  I learned to be comfortable with myself and with speaking in front of an audience.  As silly as it sounds, taking an improv comedy class helped me to be a better lawyer years later.

I won’t make the analogy that practicing improv is a lot like practicing law, because it’s not.  But, there are aspects that are similar: like having to adjust to a situation or play different roles.  If you’re going to be an effective attorney, you must step outside of your comfort zone from time to time.  Why not take an improv or theater class?  It may sound totally off base to you, but I think it’s a wonderful way to build confidence and learn how to work with people on multiple levels.

Alas, if taking an improv class isn’t right for you, look into getting involved with a group like Toastmasters.  Toastmasters is an organization that teaches public speaking and gives you the opportunity to practice speaking in front of small groups of people. Public speaking is the number one fear that human beings have, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you will feel.  I have heard great things from attorneys who are involved with Toastmasters.  These attorneys have learned how to speak clearly and concisely, both of which are incredibly important skills.  Do you want to be the attorney who “um’s” the judge to death? Of course not.  So, why not get involved with a group like this?

If neither of these options sound the least bit interesting to you, try to practice thinking on your feet with friends, family or your law school’s career service office.  Answering mock interview questions is a great way to do this.  Always ask for feedback.

It feels very exhilarating to speak in front of people.  Yes, it’s a bit scary, but it’s going to be necessary at some point in your legal career.  If you don’t already have experience doing it, your challenge this week is to look into ways to get some experience.  Check out an improve class.  Besides being helpful, it’s a lot of fun.


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