Grit and a growth mindset are linked to success

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Possessing grit influences several factors for lawyers: overall quality of work, the point when in-house counsel join in a decision-making process, and seniority and tenure within an organization, according to a recent study by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.

These and other findings from the commission’s Grit Project are to be published in August in the book Grit, the Secret to Advancement: Stories of Successful Women Lawyers. The commission hosted a program about the project at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Miami in early February.

The Grit Project was introduced in 2014 and based on research by Milana Hogan, the chief legal recruiting and professional development officer at Sullivan & Cromwell. In 2013, Hogan discovered a statistical link between grit and successful women while she was pursuing a doctorate in education at the University of Pennsylvania, according to a press release.


Elaine Johnson James and Roula Allouch, who participated in a Grit Project panel at the ABA Midyear Meeting in February. Photograph by Tom Salyer Photography.

Grit is defined as “behavioral persistence in the face of adversity” and “sustained, passionate pursuit of goals,” according to the February program. Last year, Hogan’s 2013 research was expanded to consider more variables and broaden the types of lawyers surveyed.

One of the myths the program aimed to dispel was that talent alone determines success. Or, as a slide in the presentation put it: “It’s more like Talent + Deliberate Practice + Motivation + Circumstance + Other Important Variables = Success.”

The study also looks at mindset, described as the beliefs a person has about himself or herself, such as “Am I smart?” or “Am I a good lawyer?” The study asserts that whether someone has a growth mindset predicts that person’s seniority in an organization.

There’s a statistically significant relationship between grit, mindset and various measures of success for lawyers in all practice areas, the study found, and lawyers are “pretty gritty.” The research also shows that female attorneys tend to think that grit and a growth mindset are important for success, and that while many successful lawyers show growth-mindset traits when dealing with difficult situations, there’s “significant room for improvement.”

The forthcoming book includes 45 letters from women who used grit and a growth mindset to advance their careers.

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