Skip to Main Content
by Vault Law Editors | May 14, 2024


It’s the most stressful time of year. Whether it's annual reviews, bonus season, or law school finals, all are major career milestones with the potential to make us feel like we aren’t good enough. Imposter syndrome can manifest at any point in a legal career.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is that sneaking feeling that you aren’t as capable as others perceive you to be, and at any moment, you will be found out as the fraud you really are. Many who experience imposter syndrome are highly accomplished individuals, but the evidence of those accomplishments gets pushed aside and replaced with feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and insecurity.

Some telltale signs of imposter syndrome include feeling like your success is due entirely to luck rather than achievement; fear that you are inadequate or are a fraud; perfectionism and catastrophizing around mistakes; self-sabotage; constant comparison to others; and oversensitivity to criticism.

If you are feeling doubt and/or pressure, here are some helpful ways to deal with imposter syndrome when it hits.

Break Out of the Negative Loop

Once those feelings of doubt creep in, some think that simply working harder will be the magic key to removing their perceived shortcomings. If you feel like you are in a position that you are incapable of performing or that you did not truly earn, spending *more* time in the work headspace triggering those feelings can lead to a negative spiral of effects like anxiety, stress, and depression.

To combat imposter syndrome, you need to acknowledge those feelings. If you have a trusted friend or mentor, ask for some time to talk about what you are experiencing. After you have expressed your doubts, ask for feedback from that person and really listen to it. While nobody is perfect, it is likely that the feedback you receive will be honest, positive, and conducive to better peace of mind

Whether as a substitute for talking to someone or as a useful supplemental routine, get a journal and write about your experiences. Make a list of your accomplishments and how you achieved them. Don’t sell yourself short and chalk up your accomplishments to timing or good luck—really think about how you got to where you are, and remind yourself that your hard work and energy are what led you to success.

Check Your Biases

Imposter syndrome is common among high achievers, but women and minorities are more likely than others to experience it. Many law schools and firms tout diversity and inclusion as part of their culture, but the reality is there is still a long way to go for underrepresented people in the practice of law. This can lead to unrealistic feelings of unworthiness or self-doubt. Be aware of any bias against your gender or race in your professional surroundings—maybe it is a partner or client, maybe it is a peer, or maybe it is just a generalized notion that someone “like you” couldn’t possibly be so successful. Whatever the case, bias may lead you to work harder to “prove” yourself better than the stereotype. Another thing to be mindful of are microaggressions and outright discrimination. They may be subtle, but they can give you the feeling that you don’t belong, leading to those feelings of fraud. Once you acknowledge the existence of any bias or discrimination in your surroundings, make sure you also acknowledge your successes, your achievements, and how you overcame those obstacles. Talk with others about how you can change those perceptions of bias and move forward in a positive way.

Don't Play The Comparison Game

Another way to combat imposter syndrome is to stop comparing yourself to others; if it takes you longer to complete a task than a peer, don’t automatically think it is because you are inadequate or incompetent. Remember that today it may take you longer to get the work done, but in a few months, you will get better at it. Don't think of yourself as being in competition with anyone but your past self. If you focus on beating your past self and no one else, you will focus exclusively on improvement. These improvements to your skills over time will compound into mastery, and will help you build a sense of confidence that isn't dependent on any external factors.

Consider Professional Help

If you have tried to manage your imposter syndrome on your own, or with the help of mentors and friends, but you still can’t shake your doubts, it may be time to enlist the help of a professional. Many firms offer access to mental health services as part of their benefits package—check your firm's Vault Law profile or employee portal to see what benefits they have available. Many professionals actually specialize in assisting those with anxiety in professional settings, and connecting with one locally or online is a great idea.

Imposter syndrome is sneaky. It creeps up in the most unexpected times and casts a shadow on even your proudest moments. Recognizing it for what it is, talking about it, and keeping your accomplishments in perspective can help you work through it and keep imposter syndrome from ruining what’s supposed to be a very exciting time.


This post is an update to an article originally written by Rebecca King-Newman and published on December 5, 2022. That original post can be found here.