Your Voice

What lawyers can learn from self-love

  • Print.

James Gray Robinson

James Gray Robinson.

The trendy catch phrase these days is “self-love.” When I first learned about “self-love,” I mistakenly believed this meant pampering myself. Massages, candles, scented baths, vacations and other pleasantries were indulgences that, as a busy trial attorney, I did not have time for. Loving myself might include indulging in earthly delights, but it goes much deeper than superficial rewards.

Many attorneys struggle to realize that they can’t love their work or anyone else until they love themselves. Even now, with countless self-help books, webinars, coaches, gurus, religions, meditation options and internet articles, we can’t seem to fully embrace this concept. We can’t be happy until we love ourselves; we can’t be satisfied until we love ourselves; we can’t be balanced until we love ourselves; and we can’t achieve true success until we love ourselves.

When I started practicing law back in the ’70s, I assumed (like many of my colleagues) that having a law license would make my life easy and wealth was assured. Instead, I found that I had jumped from the relative safety of academia into the business of practicing law. Competition and the endless struggle to make “the big bucks” are painful realities.

We were told that we had to “fight,” “sacrifice” and devote time, energy and money to create a successful career. I will never forget a conversation I had with the senior partner of the law firm I joined after I passed the bar exam. He told me a successful career was based on a three-part foundation: devotion to (1) family; (2) work; and (3) community. He was correct to a certain extent—however, what he neglected to include (and what attorneys often neglect) is a devotion to self.

Self-love is the alignment of your conscious and unconscious minds. The subconscious mind harbors our beliefs, biases and conclusions we have formed about life. What we believe determines our reality. To paraphrase Henry Ford, if you believe you can or cannot, you are right.

Self-love eliminates any conflict between our desires and our core beliefs, and replaces it with confidence and pride. Until I truly believed I deserved success, success kept slipping out of my grasp. Until I believed I deserved to be happy, I could not be happy.

When your subconscious mind is overly critical, fearful and traumatized, it is almost impossible to hear the voices of inspiration, intuition and resilience—the ability to connect with those is what separates the truly successful lawyers from the rest of the pack. How do you know which cases will be successful? How do know whom to trust and rely on? How do you make decisions that can make or break a career?

When you can hear only the voices of your inner critic, inner child and ego, it is impossible to achieve your dreams. This is the true cause of burnout.

There are several aspects of self-love that directly bear on the conflict of the conscious and subconscious minds. By incorporating these ideas into your life, you can eliminate inner conflicts and help you achieve your goals more easily and effortlessly

Motivation vs. behavior

Why we do the things is just as important as what we do. Motivation is broken down into positive and negative attributes. We behave based on selfish or altruistic purposes. For example, do we practice law because we want to fix something we believe is broken, or do we practice law because it is admirable and just? Do we strive mightily because we are afraid of being poor or because we enjoy helping people?

This distinction can make all the difference in how you view yourself and your career. Lawyers who are motivated by service and compassion achieve satisfaction and fulfillment, while lawyers who are motivated only by fear and selfishness are never satisfied because making money does not feed their souls. It only keeps the wolves at bay, but the wolves are always there.

Self-love is always positive and compassionate. We must examine what motivates our work and sacrifice. If we believe our work is to help others versus feeding our fear of poverty, we will more likely become fulfilled and satisfied and will not burn out.

Love thyself

All perception is projection. We can see only what we are looking for. If we believe we are flawed or imposters projecting personas that are false, to appear competent and confident, our cognitive bias will find evidence that this is so. Our subconscious minds are powerful and create our own reality. Studies in implicit and cognitive bias show that our unconscious beliefs shape our perceptions of the world.

When we practice gratitude, forgiveness, understanding, acceptance, intuition and inspiration for ourselves and others, we will experience self-love. We can begin to understand that life is simply a series of experiences that teach us how to love ourselves, not a battle to be fought every day to avoid ridicule and ruin. When we accept the fact that we are just as valuable as anyone else—no matter our experiences—and that we matter and deserve success, we can achieve our goals.

If we love ourselves, we can deal with our inner critic, inner child and ego in healthy and inclusive ways. Self-criticism does not have to be a constant distraction. When I started to love myself, imagine my surprise when I stopped living in the past, filled with regret and resentment, and could experience excitement for the future. I embraced the concept that I was a perfect example of myself.


Self-love includes confidence. According to the Google dictionary, confidence is defined as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.” The definition of self-love is “appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.”

When we are stressed, afraid, depressed and on the road to burnout, we focus on everything that is going wrong. We forget that we have achieved a high level of success merely by becoming licensed attorneys. We must focus on our talents and successes and learn from our experiences. By focusing on these aspects of our lives, we can achieve a positive outlook and be resilient. We will focus on “I can,” not “I can’t.”


I always wondered why we refer to our work as “the practice of law.” As in other learned professions, we do the best we can. We strive to learn from our experiences and become more efficient and effective. If our “practice” (career) is not where we want it to be, we look for ways to improve, not beat ourselves us up about where we are. Do you practice skills in front of a mirror? Do you research how to behave like a successful lawyer? Do you learn people skills, improve your confidence and your client relationships? Or do you just wing it, hoping for the best?

I suggest that self-love recognizes that we can always do things “better,” and we have the confidence to find out how. We take continuing legal education, but do we go to wellness seminars? Do we seek out continuing life education or continuing relationship education? Practice in these areas also will vastly improve your practice of law.

Focus on self-love, gratitude and confidence. Ongoing practice to improve in all areas of life will help lawyers achieve their goals. When we focus on the positive aspects of our life and change whatever we perceive to be negative, we will have a life well-lived.

A version of this column previously appeared on

James Gray Robinson was a third-generation trial attorney specializing in family law for 27 years in his native North Carolina. Burned out and emotionally spent practicing law, he quit in 2004 and spent the next 16 years doing extensive research and innovative training to help others facing burnout and personal crises to heal. In 2017, at age 64, using the tools and strategies he learned, Robinson passed the Oregon bar exam and is again a licensed attorney. Learn more about his work at or email him at [email protected] is accepting queries for original, thoughtful, nonpromotional articles and commentary by unpaid contributors to run in the Your Voice section. Details and submission guidelines are posted at “Your Submissions, Your Voice.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.