BELIEFS IN LAW Be the Lawyer You Want to Become

According to Gandhi, your beliefs become your destiny.

Would you like to become a lawyer?

Do you think that you have the right skills?

Do you think that believing in yourself is key in developing a successful career in law?


What are beliefs?

Beliefs are convictions, which are much stronger than just thoughts. There are two main types of beliefs: empowering beliefs, which play a very important role in the achievement of someone’s goals, and limiting beliefs, which hold the individual back from reaching her objectives.

Empowering beliefs

Empowering beliefs are those that can push you forward. Examples of empowering beliefs are:

‘I can do it’

‘I will be the best lawyer in my city’

‘There is nothing I cannot achieve’.

These statements might not be totally true, but just believing them will help the individual obtain her goals.

Patricia McCarley describes exactly this in relation with patients, after doing an experiment. She says:

“Patient empowerment is centred on the belief that patients should be in control of their own care and that behavioural changes and adherence to therapies cannot be achieved unless patients internalized the need for self-change. Data have consistently shown improved outcomes among patients on dialysis who are engaged, empowered, and self-managing. Motivational interviewing provides a technique that can be applied by nephrology nurses to partner with patients and engage them in the management of their own care.”

Limiting beliefs

Limiting beliefs are detrimental to the achievement of goals. Some examples include:

‘I cannot do it’

‘I am too old for that’

‘I do not have what I need to be successful’

‘I lack strength’

‘That is not possible’

‘Others are better than me’

‘That’s how it is’.

Watch the first 30 seconds of this video:

Do you think Michelle will be a good lawyer at some point? She herself, as well as others, are limiting her by stating and repeating that she is a bad lawyer!

Take a look at this discussion between the two characters. Identify who has the limiting beliefs about being a lawyer and who has the empowering beliefs:




Robert Dilts

A developer, author, trainer and consultant in the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) - a model of human behavior, learning and communication.

Robert Dilts adapted anthropologist Gregory Bateson's work and came up with six logical levels, which refer to a hierarchy of levels of processes within an individual, for the development of the NLP.

Neuro-logical levels, from Robert Dilts.

The most fundamental level of influence on our relationships and interactions is the shared environment. Environmental factors determine the context and constraints under which people operate.

At another level, we can examine the specific behaviours and actions of a group or individual - i.e. what the person does within the environment. What are the particular patterns of work, interaction or communication? Behaviours take the form of specific work routines, working habits or job related activities.

Another level of process involves the strategies, skills and capabilities by which the individual selects and directs actions within their environment - i.e. how he generates and guides his behaviors within a particular context. For an individual, capabilities include cognitive strategies and skills such as learning, memory, decision-making and creativity, which facilitate the performance of a particular behavior or task.

These other levels of process are shaped by values and beliefs, which provide the motivation and guidelines behind the strategies and capabilities used to accomplish behavioral outcomes in the environment-i.e., why people do things the way they do them in a particular time and place. Our values and beliefs provide the reinforcement (motivation and permission) that supports or inhibits particular capabilities and behaviors. Values and beliefs determine how events are given meaning, and are at the core of judgment and culture.

Values and beliefs support the individual's or organization's sense of identity - i.e. the who behind the why, how, what, where and when. Identity level processes involve people's sense of role and mission with respect to their vision and the larger systems of which they are members.

There is another level that can best be referred to as a spiritual level. This level has to do with people's perceptions of the larger systems to which they belong and within which they participate. These perceptions relate to a person's sense of for whom or for what their actions are directed, providing a sense of vision, meaning and purpose for their actions, capabilities, beliefs and role identity.values and beliefs, which provide the motivation and guidelines behind the strategies and capabilities used to accomplish behavioral outcomes in the environment.



John Grindler and Richard Bandler created the ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ (NLP) in the 1970s. In simple terms, NLP refers to the way of precisely understanding how you do (in terms of thinking, feeling, language and behaviour) the things you do, so that you can improve your good mehtods and replace your not-so-good ones. It is a tool used for personal development and for success in business.

According to Grindler and Bandler, there is a connection between neurological processes (‘neuro’), language (‘linguistic’) and behavioural patterns learnt through experience (‘programming’):

Neuro refers to how the mind and body interact, to how the millions of bits of data absorbed through the senses are processed. It is linked to the first mental map ('First Access'), which is constituted of internal images, sounds, tactile awareness, internal sensations, tastes and smells.

Linguistic refers to the insights into a person's thinking that can be obtained by careful attention to their use of language, it is about assigning personal meaning to the information received from the outside. The second mental map (Liguistic Representation or Map) is formed by assigning language to the internal images, sounds and feelings, tastes and smells.

Programming refers to the study of the thinking and behavioral patterns or 'programmes' by which people use in their daily life.

A key element of NLP is that we form our unique internal mental maps of the world as a product of the way we filter and perceive information absorbed through our five senses from the world around us.


We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we we wish.

You're probably now thinking, all of this Psychology is great but how can I use any of it to my advantage in my personal life and as a future lawyer?

Good question! Now that we know what the neurological levels are we can move on to the practical side: learning how to shift our neurological levels to help us solve problems more effectively.

How does it work, you ask. It's an easy two step process. Step 1: identify the neurological level at which the problem is occurring. Step 2: To solve the problem simply go to another neurological level. According to Dilts, the solution becomes obvious.

Still not quite clear? Remember how Gandhi said that your beliefs become your thoughts and ultimately lead to your destiny? Well, that's basically what Robert Dilts said but with less technical terms and no pyramids. Here's an example:


Mary-Jane has a huge presentation on Monday and she's terrified. She has told herself over and over again that she can't do it.

Step 1: identify that the problem is at the neurological level of belief

Step 2: let's shift to the level of capabilities. This anxiety could simply be a sign that she hasn't prepared enough so she should ask herself: do I have all the resources I need? Have I done all the necessary preparation?

If the answer to the questions was no then Mary-Jane is now aware that her problem is not that she can't do it, she simply hasn't prepared enough. She may also need to ask for assistance and support from others.

If the answer to the questions is yes then Mary-Jane can now focus her thoughts on the fact that she is prepared, has all her resources together and she is absolutely capable of acing that presentation on Monday!

The ability to shifting your own neurological levels is a great skill to master and will save you tons of time when solving your own problems, but what about your future client's problems.

It is hugely valuable for a lawyer to know about neurological levels and how they work because you can induce reactions or changes in a person at one neurological level by making changes or introducing stimuli at another level. Imagine the possibilities if you can understand and influence the neurological workings of witnesses, your clients, opposition lawyers and their clients! As you can imagine this is a very powerful tool and can be used for good or for harm.

High profile cases are always an example of this where lawyers try to beat each other using strategy and mind games. In the OJ Simpson case for example, OJ's mugshot was published on the 1994 cover of Time Magazine. Notice any difference between the actual mugshot and the cover?


Yes the cover image is significantly darker than the mugshot. There was a huge outcry following its publication. Why do you think?

Many argued that Time Magazine was playing on the prejudiced belief of many Americans at the time that people of a darker hue are more likely to commit crimes. Analyzing this from the Dilts perspective, Time was able to introduce a stimulus (the magazine cover) that targeted the neurological level of beliefs of certain individuals and thus was able to affect or mold their behaviour level creating the specific public response to the case that would sell copies.

Lawyers in that case and others use similar techniques for example in jury selection. If we know that people's values and beliefs will lead them to think or act a certain way or that putting them in a certain environment can affect the way they behave, we can effectively control certain elements of the case just by introducing different actions, stimuli or changes at various levels.

Now that you're a neurological programming expert: how will you use your power?

The way we act...

Your Thoughts become your reality

A word on negativity...

The same glass can be seen as half full or half empty. Research has shown that, depending on how the glass is described to people it changes how they feel about it. If it is described as half full (i.e. the gain frame, because the focus lies on what is gained) people like it. But if the glass is described as half empty (i.e. the loss frame) then people tend to not like it. So… what happens when we try to switch, from thinking about it one way to thinking about it another? Can we shift, or do we get stuck in one way of thinking about it? Does one of these labels tend to stick more in the mind?

To investigate this question, a simple experiment was conducted in UC Davis:

They told participants in their experiment about a new surgical procedure, and randomly assigned them to one of 2 conditions: for participants in the first condition, they described the surgical procedure in terms of gains, they said it had had a 70% success; and for participants in the second one, they described it in terms of losses, they said it had had a 30% failure rate. So it’s the exact same procedure, but they were focusing the attention of the people in the part of the glass that is full, or the part of the glass that is empty. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people like the procedure when it is presented as having a 70% success rate, and they don’t like it when it is presented as a 30% failure rate.

But then they added a twist. They told participants in the first group “you know, you could think about this as a 30% failure rate”... and now they didn’t like it anymore; they’ve changed their minds. They also told the second group “you know, you could think about this as a 70% success rate…” but, unlike the first group, they stuck with their initial opinion. They seemed to be we can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish.

The same study was conducted using elections, governors, and job losses/savings. Same outcome. Notice what this means: once the loss frame gets in there… it sticks. People can’t go back to thinking about “success rate, or jobs saved” once they thought about “failure rate, or jobs lost”.

Why does this happen? Can it be changed?

Could it be that it is actually mentally harder to people to convert from losses to gains than it is to go from gains to losses?

A third experiment was conducted. The idea was to test how easily people can convert from one frame to another. They told participants to imagine a scenario in which there had been an outbreak of an unusual disease and 600 lives were at stake.

Two groups were made and two scenarios presented: They asked the first group how many lives would be lost if 100 lives were saved; and the second one how many lives would be saved if 100 were lost. Everyone just had to calculate 600-100 and come up with the answer of 500; but while people in one group people had to convert from gains to losses in order to do that, the other group had to convert from losses to gains.

They timed how long it took them to solve this simple math problem, and what they found is that when people have to convert from gains to losses they could solve the problem quite quickly (7 seconds on average), but when they had to convert from losses to gains, it took them far longer (almost 11 seconds on average).

What we take away from this research is that our view of the world has a fundamental tendency to tilt towards the negative. It’s pretty easy to go from good to bad, but far harder to shift from bad to good. We literally have to work harder to see the upside of things.

A real world example?

After the financial crisis the real economy recovered much faster than consumer confidence, which stagnated at some point and has not yet fully recovered. Again, an example that illustrates that how we perceive the world and how we act in consequence, can take longer to be changed than the actual real world we are perceiving.
How should we act...

how should we develop beliefs

"When I see it, I believe it"

According to Robert Dilts, that is too late: you have to believe in it before it exists. You have to believe in it when reality is the opposite.

You have to get your belief not only in your brain, but also in your heart and in your belly. Did you know that we have a brain in our belly? There are 140 million nerve cells, which is as many as a cat brain has.

The key five questions you need to ask yourself to check whether this is truly a belief or not, are the following:

1) Is it important for you? You have many things you want to do in your life, this has to be among the top of your list. Otherwise, this is not something you really want to achieve.

2) Is it possible? Is it something you can do? I can learn how to dance, but I cannot fly...

3) Is it appropriate? Does it fit you? It has to be somehting that matches your values.

4) Am I capable? Do I have the support? It is important to both be able to do it, and to have the resources and the people you need there to support you.

5) Do I deserve it? You have to think that you do, but at the same time you have to assume that it is your responsibility. It is up to you to achieve it or not.

Beliefs and LAWYERS

The effect beliefs may have in shaping a lawyer is crucial. There are many types of lawyers and you may choose who to become.

Beliefs are very important in laws. Empowering beliefs can help you become a good and successful lawyer, while limiting beliefs will hold you back from achieving them, since the profession of being a lawyer requires a lot of self-confidence and empowerment to convince clients and judges.

Below you will find a list of values that a high-principled lawyer should have. If you would like to become such a lawyer, it may be worth considering adapting your beliefs to the values below.


Legacy: a commitment to leave society better than you found it.

Respect: for people and their development. Honoring the dignity of others.

Service: to clients and each other. Caring.

Excellence: striving for the highest quality and professionalism in everything you do.

Integrity and honesty: character counts. Reliability, trustworthiness, transparency. A commitment to fairness, honor, and truth.

Teamwork: a collaborative approach among lawyers and staff. Available, approachable, generous with one’s time, sharing work, sending work to the right place in the firm. Cooperation.

Contribution: a personal commitment to earn one’s spot on the roster each year.

Accountability: agreeing to be bound by the reasonable standards and expectations articulated in the core values.


Your beliefs shape the lawyer you would like to be in the future: good/bad, successful/unsucessful, etc. As Gandhi wisely states it, your beliefs affect your reality (thoughts, actions, etc) and thus, your values, which ultimately take you to your destiny.

This is the reason why it is very important that you focus on empowering beliefs, which will make you become that lawyer that you dream of, at the same time that you get rid of the limiting beliefs that stop you from achieving your goals.

Many are the techniques that can be used to eliminate your limiting beliefs (e.g. PSYCH - K) or to change the way your mind works and 'believes' (e.g. neuro-logical levels, NLP).

You may use all the techniques at your disposal to change your mind's structure and start shaping the lawyer you want to become.


Neuro-Linguistic Programming, by R. Dilts, R. Bandler, J. Grinder and J. DeLozier
Changing Beliefs System with NLP, by Robert Dilts

Experiment about empowering patients:

Patricia McCarley, “Patient Empowerment and Motivational Interviewing: Engaging Patients to Self-Manage Their Own Care”, Nephrology Nursing Journal, Vol. 36, 4

Keys to Leadership - Robert Dilts

Steve Jobs - "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people's thinking."


Created with images by kevin dooley - "Railroad weeds"

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