Author of The Introverted Lawyer
Director of Legal Writing at Brooklyn Law School
Pamela: My name is Pamela DeNeuve and I’d like to welcome you to Lawyer of the Week. This week, I would like to introduce to you Heidi K. Brown, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about her. Heidi Brown is a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School and a former litigator in the construction industry. Having struggled with extreme public speaking anxiety and the perceived pressure to force an extroverted persona through law school in nearly two decades of law practice, she finally embraced her introversion and quiet nature as a powerful asset in teaching and practicing law.
She is now author of a two-volume legal writing book series entitled, “The Mindful Legal Writer,” won a global legal skills award for her work in helping law students overcome public speaking anxiety in the context of the Socratic method and oral arguments, and was appointed to the Fulbright Specialist Roster to teach English legal writing in international law schools. Heidi champions the power of quiet law students and lawyers to be profoundly impactful advocates in their authentic voices.
Heidi: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Pamela: Yes, thank you for being introverted and yet, agreeing to be our Lawyer of the Week.
Heidi: Thank you very much.
Pamela: That’s very special. So, I’d like to ask you our Lawyer of the Week questions. And so, our first question is: What made you decide to become a lawyer?
Heidi: Well, when I was back in high school and the early years of college, I actually aspired to be the first female orthopedic surgeon to the Washington Redskins football team. I grew up in Virginia. I was a big football fan, but my family had a giant, 100-pound St. Bernard and every time my father would take me to the vet, I promptly would faint at the sight of blood, so I thought maybe medical school is not for me.
But I really enjoyed legal research and writing in some of my college classes and especially just any type of research and writing, and I thought law school would be a good choice to kind of hone those skills and explore those skills further. I never was a big argumentative person or debate person in college, but I thought I could find my niche in law school and use the legal research and writing to find my path.
Pamela: Oh, great. So, when you…your St. Bernard- was he- he or she sick a lot, and you ended up taking him to the vet? Or…?
Heidi: It just seemed like every couple months, we had to go and for some reason, I was excited to go but it never ended well for me.
Pamela: So, tell us a little bit about your practice today, and what are your biggest wins and what are your biggest challenges?
Heidi: Yes, so throughout my entire practice I was a construction litigator, so my firm’s represented owners and contractors, subcontractors, architects, engineers, anyone who was building bridges, tunnels, hospitals, senior living centers. And so, our cases would usually take about two years to go to trial from the time we filed the complaint, to getting through all the discovery, to actually getting a trial date. So, it was very document intensive. Lots of document review and lots of brief writing. Many discovery motions, lots of pre-trial motions. And so, my biggest wins in my litigation career, I found, were when we would win a case on a summary judgment or win a portion of a case on summary judgment.
I absolutely loved, the research and writing aspect of my job, and I enjoyed the task of preparing a summary judgment motion, having to kind of read through all the discovery we achieved with depositions, document review, interrogatory responses, and building the case incrementally through the documentary record and the testimony record through deposition transcripts.
And I enjoyed crafting the arguments in the brief and then it was so exciting for a judge to grant partial summary judgment or full summary judgment and be able to achieve something for the client without having to go through the expense and the stress of the actual trial. And then the challenges for me, again- so, I am an introvert and I also have experienced levels of shyness and social anxiety throughout my upbringing, especially in law school dealing with the Socratic method of answering questions in class- and I found myself in this litigation firm in the construction industry, which can be kind of rough and tough.
The challenges for me really came from performance events like depositions, negotiations and certainly, having to appear in court. I always felt like I had to mirror the extrovert personality or try and fake this hardcore kind of fist-pounding-litigator roll, and that was a big challenge for me because I didn’t feel authentic and I felt I was faking it or forcing it.
And so, when I finally, after many years, realized I didn’t need to do that to be effective, it really took me transitioning into law teaching when I noticed that my strongest legal writing students often were my most quiet advocates and they were, indeed, fearful of speaking in class and doing oral arguments and doing mock simulated negotiations, but I found I wanted to find a way to help them amplify their voices authentically, instead of faking it, because obviously lawyers all need to be able to talk about the law and engage and interact with other people, but there’s ways of doing it in your authentic manner.
And so, I started studying introversion, shyness and social anxiety in the legal profession, and it really helped me overcome that challenge in terms of engaging with other lawyers and in teaching, and it helped me help the next generation of law students and lawyers do the same thing.
Pamela: Yeah, I’m just curious. Um- how did you end up practicing in construction law out of all the practices that you could have gone into?
Heidi: Yes, I never set out in law school to be a construction litigator. I, frankly, didn’t really even know that industry existed, but I got a really fantastic summer associate position with a firm in Virginia and it was a wonderful training ground and it didn’t really matter to me what the subject matter was. It was the training and the mentoring that we got that summer. Lots of exposure to client scenarios, the partners took us to court all the time, and the writing was so exciting.
And my friends back at law school would say, “How can you make construction law exciting?” But it genuinely was. It was lots of breach of contract issues, and misrepresentation issues and every case, we had to learn something about engineering or architecture, or different types of soil or concrete and it kind of added a whole dimension to my law practice, having to learn a completely other profession, such as building things. And I felt like our clients were always contributing. They were creating something and I wanted to be a part of that.
Pamela: Interesting. Did you end up going to work with that firm?
Heidi: I did. I worked with that firm for both my summers in law school and then after I took the bar exam- passed the bar exam, thankfully- I ended up working at that same firm for about six years after that. And then I moved to New York and worked with two different firms after that, as well.
Pamela: Okay, so, you know, once the- from starting as a summer intern, getting that foundation in the construction law, then you had that expertise, and then as long as you were practicing law, you kept building on that experience?
Heidi: I did. I found that having that experience in the same type of industry, I started to be able to spot issues, just from seeing patterns in the cases. And like I said, even though our cases would take a long time to go to trial, we’d work on a few at the same time and you saw similar trends and patterns and the legal issues would-even across different jurisdictions, federal and state, all over the country- the same legal issues would pop up with interesting nuances to them, but I really enjoyed being able to track down law that would support our clients’ position and then come up with creative arguments, as well.
Pamela: Yes. Yeah. Really, it’s just fascinating to me, Heidi, because you know- it’s kind of a juxtaposition, in that there was this beautiful opportunity for writing, and research, and discovery and all of that, and then on the other hand, if it did go into court, that was really kind of rough-and-tumble, sort of, litigation, so you kind of stumbled into something where there was the best of both worlds.
Heidi: Absolutely, and I had to really understand and get to know myself and my strengths and my weaknesses, and figure out how to prevail in those situations on a personal level. One thing I’ll add is, even though it was a litigation practice, because we saw so many issues pop up that stemmed from contractual language that the parties were disputing and fighting over, it enabled me to understand how to write a good contract.
And so, my career, as I developed and grew and in the later years of my litigation career, I ended up drafting many, many construction contracts and architect contracts and subcontractor agreements because I could- I knew what could possibly go wrong, based on all the litigation work we did. I ended up being the drafter of many contracts, which was kind of a fun new dimension that I hadn’t expected being a litigation attorney- to be able to do so much transactional drafting, as well.
Pamela: So can you recall the day, or the instance, or the situation when you said, “I have to do something that’s more true to my voice?”
Heidi: Yes, I had many instances in depositions where I did not feel like myself and I would always be wearing turtlenecks and scarves around my neck to cover up the fact that when I got anxious or felt out of place, I would blush. And I felt that all the attorneys in the room could tell that I was nervous. And I kept trying to hide that, and the more I hid, the more I tried to cover myself up- even just clothing wise, or hide, or be quiet, and- and react to them trying to engage me in more fighting behavior, it just got worse.
And so, I had a particularly challenging deposition a long time ago where a gentleman attorney rolled a television set into my deposition, and we had about nine attorneys in the room defending various defendants in the case. I was representing the plaintiffs, and we had many parties on the other side. And the gentleman in the room wanted to watch a baseball game during my deposition, and I just remember having this panic attack. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know if I should fight. I think the instinct of many litigators would be to kind of pound the fist, and I realized that day, I needed to handle that scenario my way.
And I chose to ignore it and I focused on the deponent. And I engaged on a one-on-one level with the deponent and he focused on my questions, and I got so much information that I needed for my case. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I was very stressed, but I realized that day I need to- I need to develop my own lawyer persona and not try to mirror very outward, outgoing, extroverted, kind of gregarious people because I get the job done doing it my way.
And then, another major moment was when I stepped into my first law classroom and I noticed- and throughout that semester- that my, as I mentioned before- my most insightful legal minds in the classroom were quiet, and they weren’t sure about their lawyer voices quite yet. And that’s when I realized, “We’re really onto something here.” Because the research shows that quiet individuals- introverts and introversion is really just the way we process energy and stimuli, and how we need to kind of retreat into solitude to regain energy. That’s different from social anxiety where we have a fear of judgment, which we can completely bring into our professional lives.
I realized that those individuals, based on the research, bring so many assets to the legal profession: deep thinking, active listening, thoughtful writing, creative decision-making, or just creative problem-solving, and empathy for others. And it might seem odd to think about empathy and in my practice, where it was construction and everyone was tough and strong, but I started realizing that if you have a little bit of empathy and try to understand what is causing the human conflict on this job site or this negotiation, that’s just stalled- It’s- it’s not being soft to be empathetic. It’s- it’s actually being smart. And so, that’s when I realized- just through that process- that we need to cultivate the quiet individuals in our profession, because it really could change the way we solve legal problems.
Pamela: That’s great, you know and it just makes me think that by embracing all styles and all strengths- different strengths- in the legal profession, that it can be a game-changer overall, instead of the traditional, “This is the way a lawyer is supposed to process information. This is the way a lawyer is supposed to act,” by embracing all of- all of the variety of strengths and qualities in the profession- would make for much richer and much more impactful legal profession, don’t you agree?
Heidi: I absolutely agree and even- even just changing the way we look at strengths and weaknesses. I honestly believe that being quiet, or introverted, or even sometimes anxious, is not a weakness in our profession. It’s actually a strength because we care, we’re thinking, we’re trying to solve this problem internally, instead of just saying the first thing that comes to mind.
Pamela: I agree with that. So, tell us a little bit about your practice today.
Heidi: So, I’ve transitioned to full-time academia now, although I do still write about issues that occur in the legal profession, and even in the construction profession. But I’m a full-time legal writing professor at Brooklyn Law School. And so, now my job is to teach legal writing. I teach how to write legal analysis, memorandum, brief writing, letter writing, and transactional drafting, as well, so that’s the focus of my law profession at this point.
Pamela: So is- who is a perfect referral to your practice?
Heidi: So, right now my main focus is on wellness initiatives- obviously, I want to create a great pool of strong legal writers in our profession and that’s what I do on a day to day basis. But the perfect referral to my work now are pre-law students, law students, and junior attorneys, and maybe even senior attorneys in the profession, too, who are kind of struggling with the same challenges that I experienced. They’re either introverts and feel like they have to force this extroverted persona, or they feel inauthentic, or if they experience higher- heightened levels of anxiety, or shyness, or social phobia, or social anxiety- in combative- or even just performance oriented events.
I’ve done a lot of work in that area because, again, I truly believe that our profession needs these voices. We shouldn’t say to pre-law students, or law students, or even junior attorneys, “Hey, if this seems too stressful for you, you should go do something else.” I don’t- I think we’d be missing out on a really important group of voices in our profession, as we were saying: diverse voices, people with different points of view, different problem-solving techniques, different learning styles. That’s how we’re going to solve the tough little problems that we face.
Pamela: Yes, you know- and I was thinking when you use the word well-being, because I’m really a champion of lawyer well-being, I had the opportunity to be a peer reviewer for the recent report that came out: The Pathways to Lawyer’s Health and Well-Being- and you know, as you were speaking, I was thinking that perhaps a lot of the mental health issues that, as the report reveals- as including alcoholism, and depression, and anxiety- that there- a large percentage of those lawyers could be lawyers who do experience the kind of anxiety that you’re speaking about.
Heidi: Absolutely. I read that report, too. The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and I’ve been thinking so much lately about the concept of fear and lawyering and- and our fear of making a mistake- and we don’t talk about that enough. And in that report- the report itself talks about the fear of law students and junior lawyers admitting that they’re afraid, or admitting that they- they don’t know how to do a certain legal activity, or they’re not sure which strategy to undertake.
And I love that our profession has this task force and is focusing on mental health and well-being because there is so much anxiety, that I feel just by talking about it and talking about fear out loud, talking about mistake-making- our profession is a difficult one. There’s confusion in procedures- sometimes the right answer is not always clear. But if we can open a dialog about that more, at an earlier stage in our professional development, we can at least start to turn down the dial of anxiety- at least a little bit each time and really enhance the mental health of our profession.
Pamela: Absolutely. And it was interesting, in that report, that the highest level of the addictions, and alcoholism, and anxiety was among law students, as opposed to the senior lawyers, which I had thought before was the biggest- the biggest personalities- or the biggest percentage of lawyers that were suffering from these things.
Heidi: Interesting, yes.
Pamela: So they actually in the report- they showed that they took the same same number of students that began- that were in school, but those that went to law school, they were, by far more- were addicted, more had problem drinking, and more had the depression, than the general population of students.
Heidi: Absolutely. Yes, they say- I think the statistics show that students come to law school with the same psychological markers, I think is the phrasing, as the general population, and then- you’re right- as law school progresses, and certainly upon graduation, they- law students are exhibiting higher rates of psychological dysfunction: anxiety, depression, alcohol, drug abuse. You’re absolutely right. And in my opinion, that’s something that we can talk about in law school and create a conversation around. Why are we stressed? Why are our classrooms engendering heightened levels of stress, that maybe other educational systems are not doing? And- or maybe in those other educational systems, they have wellness initiatives that are creating early intervention procedures, so we can help our students become happier, more fulfilled professionals.
Pamela: Yes, yes. Absolutely. So, I’d really like to congratulate you for being there, on the ground- you know- in the- you know, in the law schools and actually being able to have a dialog about these issues and being sensitive that these situations actually do exist.
Heidi: Thank you. I think it’s really important for us, as educators and professionals- I mean, I practiced law for over 20 years- and we need- we need, as the role models and mentors, to be honest about what we went through. I was absolutely a very anxious and depressed law student, and at many points throughout my career, I struggled a lot with really extreme levels of anxiety. And we need to tell our students that. That we’re not- we didn’t all just do this perfectly. We had struggles, too. And I think it really helps for us to show vulnerability and humility at times, which is hard for professors and lawyers to do. But the more we do that, students may be able to open up to us and find that they can ask for help and guidance, not from a standpoint of weakness, but from a standpoint of strengths, because that’s the way to really be a strong, helpful contributor to our profession.
Pamela: Absolutely. I wanted to read this little excerpt before we ask you about your legacy, about “The Introverted Lawyer.” And it says, “While naturally loquacious law professors, law students, lawyers, and judges thrive in a world dominated by the Socratic question-and-answer method and rapid-fire oral discourse, quiet thinkers and writers can be sidelined. The Introverted Lawyer,” which is the title of Heidi’s book, “eliminates the valuable gifts that introverted, shy, and socially anxious individuals bring to the legal profession, including active listening, deep thinking, empathy, impactful legal writing, creative problem-solving, and thoughtful communication.” So, tell us about your book and your legacy- how this all plays into your message and your purpose.
Heidi: Thank you. Well, my legacy really is to try to enhance the wellness of the members of our profession and to open up this dialog. And so, as I mentioned when I transitioned to teaching, and saw the amazing gifts that my quiet students were bringing to the table- but they still felt this level of anxiety and stress in performance moments- I really dug into the research. First of all, what the difference is between introverts and extroverts are- not that one is better than the other- but in the legal profession, we sort of promote the extrovert stereotype ideal. And so, my book really first distinguishes between the personality traits of introverts and extroverts, so people can be more self-aware whether they might fit in one or the other category.
And then, it also distinguishes between labels like introvert, shy, socially anxious, because those are very different labels, as well. And it’s important for someone to understand if they’re in a performance moment and they’re feeling stressed, is it- is it because they’re an introvert and they need more time to process complex legal thoughts before taking them prime-time, I like to say- they like to process it internally. Or is it that they have this fear of judgment by a judge or opposing counsel or someone across the table they’re negotiating with? So, the book first kind of sets out the terminology.
Then, as you’ve mentioned, lays out the assets that quiet individuals bring to the legal profession: the thinking, the thoughtful writing, the creativity, the sensitivity to others’ feelings, they can read the room by looking at eye contact and body language. And then, because obviously lawyers all do need to be able to step into interpersonal engagement with confidence at various points throughout everyday, the book also talks about strategies for amplifying our voices in an authentic manner.
That’s really the message I want to get across. I mean, I was told over decades to, “Just fake it till you make it.” Or, you know, the Nike slogan, “Just do it. Just do it a thousand times, and you’ll be fine. Everybody’s nervous.” And those mantras did not work for me. And I know they don’t work for the junior attorneys and the law students out there.
So, the second half of the book outlines the seven step process for us to really get to know ourselves mentally, physically even, because the way we handle ourselves physically in performance scenarios has a lot to do with our mental clarity. So, the seven steps helps individuals first of all, reflect on their mental and physical strategies and normal responses to stress. And then mental and physical action plans. And then really, having a conscious plan for stepping into performance scenarios with greater self-awareness and confidence. And it really works. I have to work the system every day. Even before coming to speak with you today, I had to run through my mental and physical checklist.
And I just found that as I’ve- I’ve worked this process in many performance scenarios, it gets better, and better, and better. It’s not always perfect, but what I’ve learned is that perfection is boring, and being true to who you are has a humongous effect on our interactions with others. So, that’s really the message of the book. That we bring a lot to the table as quiet individuals. There are ways for us to amplify our voices in an authentic manner, and it’s all about authenticity, humility, being open to learning about ourselves and other people. And that’s going to enhance, in my opinion, the legal profession.
Pamela: And how does this play into your legacy, Heidi?
Heidi: My legacy really, is to really remove a layer of anxiety and stress in our profession that doesn’t need to be there. I want to leave a legacy of care for the future generation of law students and lawyers. I think we can do a better job as legal professionals of creating a nurturing- not in a weak way, but just a supportive, mentoring environment- that creates a healthier profession. My legacy- I would love to just see a healthier, happier, more fulfilled profession with well-being, and good mental health, and work-life balance.
Pamela: Wonderful. Well, our last question, which I ask every one of our guests, because we are interested in lawyer well-being is: What do you do or name one thing that you do to relax or to relieve stress?
Heidi: So, what I learned in writing my book, is that my mental and physical reactions to stress go very hand-in-hand. So, to reduce stress, I sort of have a three pronged approach every day. One, I was never much of a meditator. I didn’t understand how to do it really, but I started using an app on my phone. So, the first thing that I do every day is I- I just click on some sort of creativity meditation. I’m still not great at doing it myself, so I need a guided meditation. So, I do that.
The second thing I do literally every day of my life is every morning, I write three longhand pages of what the author Julia Cameron who wrote “The Artist’s Way” called “Morning Pages.” And it doesn’t matter what you write down. You just have to fill three pages. No more, no less- at least, that’s my approach. I never read it- or reread it- again. But it just starts my day by getting everything out of my brain that was percolating in there overnight.
And then- so those are sort of my two daily mental strategies. And then, I also have started taking boxing lessons. I mean, I’ve always done exercise classes like spinning, but signing up for boxing lessons and training with a real boxer has been an amazing way to enhance not only physical strength, but just physical confidence. Because there’s something about just putting on boxing gloves and having to learn maneuvers.
It’s a very cerebral sport, actually. But it’s made me feel- understand how to manage my breathing better and just have more strength when I start to feel tired in a performance event. So, I’ve really been loving doing the boxing training and I definitely want to keep doing that. So, I combine those three strategies- sort of, two mental and one physical- to keep my stress levels down.
Pamela: Wonderful, wonderful. Well Heidi, we really appreciate your being our Lawyer of the Week. Now, we’ll put your link for your book at the bottom of our post here. And can you tell- the book was published by the ABA, so is that where they would go to but to purchase your book?
Pamela: Okay, great, great. Okay, so you’ll give us all those links so that they can- whatever their choice is, they can obtain your book?
Heidi: Yes, absolutely.
Pamela: Thank you so much. Okay, great. Thank you so much, Heidi, for being our Lawyer of the Week.
Heidi: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Pamela DeNeuve, Lawyer & Law Firm Peak Performance Strategist
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