The Human Lawyer: Heidi K. Brown
Heidi K. Brown is a part of the lawyer well-being solution. How? Well, first, in 2017, Heidi authored and published The Introverted Lawyer in part to dispel the myth that the path to successful lawyering runs through loquacious extroversion. Heidi doesn’t just dispel myths, though; she provides actionable steps so introverted lawyers can be heard authentically. Like real life tips. (So long impostor syndrome. Goals.) Then, this year, Heidi authored and published another book—Untangling Fear in Lawyering. So Heidi is a doer. She’s living that whole “be the change” mantra. Read her story, in her words:
How’d you (really) get to where you are today?
I’m here after making and recovering from mistakes; acknowledging those times when I struggled (even though I worried about looking “weak”); learning how to stand up for myself; mustering up the courage to stride away from toxic situations; and finally embracing exactly who I am. I have an incredibly fulfilling writer/professor/traveler life now because of this serpentine trajectory.
In my twenties, I did everything I was “supposed to do.” I graduated from law school, got married, passed the bar, bought a house with a picket fence. I worked hard for six years as a law firm associate, chugging along the partnership track. Then I faltered in a big way when I turned 30. My 12-year relationship imploded. I moved to New York without much money and changed law firms. I worked in a law firm in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center the year leading up to 9/11. I took a leave of absence from the firm during the summer right before 9/11 because I was still having a rough time processing my divorce. On 9/11, I was on a plane flying home from Greece and my flight got diverted to Gander, Newfoundland where I spent five days being taken care of by the most amazing and generous Canadians.
After 9/11, I resolved to stop feeling sorry for myself. I joined yet another law firm—this time a small boutique litigation firm—and specialized in brief-writing. My struggles with public speaking, anxiety, and fear persisted. The bullying I dealt with at that firm unfortunately was not much different than previous working environments.
Fifteen years into my litigation career, I started teaching legal writing. My first year of teaching, I realized that my most thoughtful, creative, insightful students were also often the most fearful of speaking in class and of other performance-based activities. They were me! Teaching led me to researching and writing my book, The Introverted Lawyer. Finally, understanding my introversion (+ the added layer of social anxiety) empowered me to leave a high-paying, but toxic, law firm job and embrace a new incredibly rewarding future as a full-time law professor and writer. I just published my sixth book, Untangling Fear in Lawyering.
Your Greatest Inspiration?
I know this response might elicit a few eye rolls, but Bono (the lead singer of the Irish rock band, U2) is my greatest creative inspiration and role model. I must admit I am somewhat jealous of the fact that Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge, and Larry Mullen, Jr. formed the band when they were in high school and have worked together for 43 years.
On stage, Bono highlights how they have had only one job in their lifetimes—collaborating on impactful music (and philanthropic projects). I have been to a lot of U2 concerts, and at every show I am inspired to take a creative risk, do something good, be a better human. I joke that I can weave a U2 reference into any conversation: “Circling back to the band for a minute, [insert inspiring lyric here].” When I get nervous about a public speaking event, part of my pre-performance ritual is to blast a U2 song (usually Get Out of Your Own Way) and channel the band’s swagger and positivity. (Also, Larry the drummer is my favorite introvert.)
Your Day-to-Day Source of Fulfillment?
I’m fulfilled in my work when I encounter students who initially don’t think they can “do law school” and then they figure out how to navigate classroom participation, an oral argument assignment, or exams. I see these students experience incremental successes and it’s like I feel them realizing . . . “YES, I CAN.”
For me, there is nothing more rewarding than when a student who arrived at law school declaring “I hate writing” or “I can’t write” ends up writing the best brief. The same can be said for the student who wants nothing to do with the oral argument assignment, but then peels back layers of fear and figures out how to be authentic and real in the moment—yep, nothing better. Being a law professor (and a writer) is the best job I’ve ever had—and it’s 100% because of my students.
The World Will Remember You How?
By my friends, I want to be remembered as the person who says “yes” to all the adventures—these people know that the mere suggestion of hopping on a plane and flying someplace new will be met with an unequivocal yes.
By my students, I want to be remembered as a person who encouraged them to be their authentic selves and who emphasized how important it is to do your own thing and not worry about what everyone else is doing.
By the legal profession, I want to be remembered as someone who wasn’t afraid to talk about “unpretty” stuff and get real about the struggles many of us face as lawyers and as humans.
The One Thing You Would Change About the Practice of Law?
I would change the stereotype image that all lawyers need to be extroverted, gregarious, self-assured, and fear-free movers-and-shakers. We can be impactful, thoughtful, and creative problem-solvers by being ourselves, even if we are “quiet” and don’t “act like a lawyer.”
I also would change the mindset of legal education, re-defining what it means to be a “successful” law student. Traditional accolades like grades, law review, moot court, BigLaw summer jobs, etc. are not representative of all the different ways a law student can be a tremendous success. Perhaps worse, those accolades perpetuate the problems associated with the legal profession—unhealthy competitiveness, anxiety, fear, depression, addiction, imposter syndrome. It takes all kinds, and the legal education system should analyze whether the existing structure detrimentally characterizes students as “haves” and “have nots.”
Your Unique “Thing”?
In addition to experiencing over 25 U2 concerts all over the world (I don’t know what I am going to do when they retire; I can’t even think about it), I also take boxing lessons. Stepping into the boxing ring for the first time, with my hands wrapped and gloved up, was scary but exhilarating. I try to box once or twice a week. It helps me stay calm in stressful performance moments. My favorite reminder (self-talk): if I didn’t die in my last 60-minute boxing session, I’m not going to die in an intense faculty meeting. As Bono sings: “You don't have to put up a fight. You don't have to always be right.”