Work + Growth

How Your Risk Aversion Limits Your Potential


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  • Identifying, and helping clients avoid, risk is integral to being a lawyer
  • Intense focus on risks makes you a better lawyer but can limit your growth potential
  • Use the positive aspects of your risk sensitivity while actively minimizing its limiting effects

Lawyers are known for–and better at their jobs because of–their sensitivity to risk, but reducing your risk aversion can lead to opportunity in your professional and personal life.

If you’re like most lawyers, you’re probably somewhat ready to challenge the premise of this article. Sounds risky. But read on, because lawyers tend to hold themselves and their careers back due to their impressive ability to see all the potential issues and risks that accompany any decision point.

Should a practicing lawyer even want to reduce their risk aversion?

After all, avoiding risk is how most lawyers successfully finished law school in the first place: studying hard, getting the right summer internships, and studiously avoiding risk in favor of calculated choices and concentrated effort. And as you already know, the basics of being a competent lawyer is to avoid risk—for your clients, for businesses, for contracts. Lawyers are trained to consider all possibilities and protect their clients from all possible concerns. Simply put, lawyers are to be risk-averse whenever possible.

So why change?

Because risk avoidance doesn’t end when you wrap up the paperwork. And avoiding risk in the rest of your professional life—and your personal one—will hinder you from achieving your greatest goals.

Is risk aversion really impacting my life?

Impacting your life? Absolutely. Ruining your life? Probably not, unless you’ve really let yourself become risk-avoidant and haven’t ordered a new dish off a menu since 2009.

For most of us, being stuck in a risk-averse pattern of behavior simply limits our potential for growth. Opportunities rarely come as certainties, and if you avoid risk at all costs, you might pass up the chance to develop your career, personal life, and anything else that matters to you.

Can you think of an instance where you should have taken a risk–even a small one–and you missed out because you didn’t?

We’re not telling you to be a risk-seeker.

Like most traits, your relationship to risk should strive for balance. Too much avoidance, and you’ll remain stuck as you wait for your sure thing to land in your lap. Too much enthusiasm for risk, and you can recklessly jump into harmful situations with little preparation.

Here are a few risk-averse traits you should keep:

Responsibility: Often, the risk-averse avoid situations that can go awry because they feel solely responsible for any consequences. Don’t let it get that extreme, but having a healthy sense of responsibility will help you take precautions as you consider all possible results and potential consequences for you.

Preparation: Risk-averse behavior often manifests itself as preparedness. While readying yourself for any contingency will only waste time and effort, preparing for general outcomes will increase your flexibility and responsiveness to problems.

Consideration: It’s easy to push off taking risks due to insufficient data, but don’t let this positive trait keep you stagnant. Allow yourself due time to plan your decision and consider possible outcomes, but learn to recognize when excessive consideration is just disguised procrastination.

Evaluating risks is crucial to being an effective lawyer, and in many cases this ability to spot and be sensitive to risk will serve you well. But also make sure that you’re aware of the risk profile you may be applying to your career and personal decisions, and work to focus on the potential for a positive outcome when evaluating risk.