I was recently presented with a financially lucrative opportunity with a company. Part of the opportunity included a Zoom interview with very conservative leadership. I have an incredible, tastefully curated backdrop in my office, complete with colorful Afrocentric and nontraditional art. Before getting on the call, I toyed with the idea of blurring out my background and throwing on a conservative, bland business suit (not my style at all). I wondered why I felt I needed to shrink and dull my outgoing personality to fit in. After running my firm for a few years, I realized I didn’t have to answer to any one else’s expectations of me and how I presented myself. I could just be me. And that’s what I decided to do on the Zoom call.
Over the past few years, I have changed how I present myself. I struggled to accept myself for a long time and tried to stay small enough, so I didn’t have to stand out. I was concerned about fitting into the box of a professional. I wanted to have hair that looked the part, clothing that looked the part, and make-up that looked the part. I wanted to say all the intelligent attorney things to be accepted as a lawyer. As time passed and my confidence grew, I realized that those external things had no bearing on my worthiness or ability.
Instead of shrinking, I now strive to embrace being myself. Being myself has allowed me to connect with my clients, colleagues, and the community on a deeper level. I can tell them “no” and hear a “no” from them with no qualms. I can empathize with them. I can laugh with them and at myself. Funnily enough, I recently told a friend that I can’t wait till I turn 80 because I know more layers of my personality will unfold, and I will have the opportunity to be even more of myself.
This attitude of authenticity applies to running a firm. Because we often feel like we have to be one kind of attorney, we often pressure ourselves to say the “right” things and present ourselves in just the “right” way to attract clients. Doing so exhausts much energy. Instead, we should spend our efforts connecting with people as a — wait for it — person. Gone are the days of shelves with leather-bound books (that go unread), a black suit, and a string of pearls being the uniform of legal practice. Yes, a suit might be appropriate for going to court, but you no longer have to hide behind a legal uniform when meeting with clients (you may now meet virtually or at a coffee shop). You don’t have to hide behind legalese. You don’t have to hide behind pantyhose. You don’t have to hide behind everything the profession told you to do and say just because you are a lawyer. Times are changing. Potential clients are less tolerant of inauthenticity. I see a movement of being more and more of ourselves. I encourage you to bring your whole self into your client interactions. Take off your mask! What are your thoughts on this subject? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share.
Iffy Ibekwe is an estate planning attorney and evangelist for intergenerational wealth transfer with effective wills and trusts. Iffy is a prolific speaker and she is writing her first book on culturally competent estate planning, available in 2024 (prayers up!). She graduated from The University of Texas School of Law and has practiced law for over 16 years. Iffy can be reached by email at email@example.com, on her website, and on Instagram at @iffyibekweesq.