The Heart of Lawyering

At this time of year it is especially important to recognize that our role as counselors has broader implications. This excerpt shows the importance of using empathy –of understanding from a “human point of view”.

The following is an excerpt from Kristin B. Gerdy, The Heart of Lawyering: Clients, Empathy, and Compassion, 3(24) Religious Conviction (2013). (View Full Paper).

Understanding clients and exercising empathy and compassion comprise the heart of lawyering. The Oxford English Dictionary defines empathy as “the power of projecting one’s personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.” The English word empathy comes from the German word Einfühlung, which literally translated means “feeling into.” According to Carl Rogers, the founder of the client-centered therapy movement, to demonstrate true empathy is to “sense the Client’s private world as if it were your own, but without ever losing the ‘as if’ quality,” whereas compassion, which is often mistakenly seen as synonymous with empathy, is “the feeling or emotion when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another and by the desire to relieve it; pity that inclines one to spare or to succor.” This definition refers to the compassion given “towards a person in distress by one who is free from it, who is, in this respect, his superior.”

To “understand, from a human point of view, what the other wants to happen in the world” requires the lawyer to think, feel, and understand what that person would think, feel, and understand, to be what Professor Martha Nussbaum terms “an intelligent reader of that person’s story.” Simply put, when a person experiences empathy, she is able to “stand in the shoes” of the other person.

To be truly effective in the use of empathy, the “intelligent reader” of the other’s story must become the “accurate translator” of that story to others. A lawyer fundamentally is a translator. As such, she needs to be able to empathize with the other side in order to translate that point of view for her client during settlement negotiations. She also needs to empathize with what opposing counsel is experiencing in order to relate effectively with her. She needs to empathize with the judge or the jury in order to know their concerns and address them as she conveys information to her client and as she makes her own strategic judgments. In other words, empathy is fundamental to the hard-care lawyering skills that affect results.

Compassionate lawyers bear the burden of others, namely their clients. …[They] can hardly be restrained from trying to render assistance and to bring healing when they witness suffering, pain, and other injustice. …[A]ll lawyers can help to bear the burdens of others as they focus on the people they serve and seek solutions for the problems they face.

Further, compassionate lawyers comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Often this comfort is given by small acts of compassion that may or may not be directly related to the legal proceedings in which the lawyer is involved. Sometimes this compassion is shown simply by the way the lawyer interacts with the client and in the relationship that develops between the two.

By bearing burdens, giving comfort, and showing care in their interactions with others, lawyers can demonstrate compassion in their professional practice.

TED Talks to Make You Smile

Smiling and laughing with someone in any setting engages dynamics which creates bonds and interpersonal connections.
My article, “The Benefits and Pitfalls of Humor in the Bargaining Room,” addresses this subject in more detail. If you are interested in reading more, please email me for a copy

The Master Mediator, The Benefits and Pitfalls of Humor in the Bargaining Room, 36 CPR Alternatives 1(6) (Jan 2018).

The following TED Talks were compiled by Chris Heivly, Crack a Smile After Listening To These 5 Silly TED Talks, Inc., (Apr. 18, 2017). TED Talks and descriptions from

How to Tie Your Shoes
Terry Moore found out he’d been tying his shoes the wrong way his whole life. In the spirit of TED, he takes the stage to share a better way.

How to Use a Paper Towel
You use paper towels to dry your hands every day, but chances are, you’re doing it wrong. In this enlightening and funny short talk, Joe Smith reveals the trick to perfect paper towel technique.

Play is More than Just Fun
A pioneer in research on play, Dr. Stuart Brown says humor, games, roughhousing, flirtation, and fantasy are more than just fun. Plenty of play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults – and keeping it up can make up smarter at any age.


Habits for Cross-Cultural Lawyering

The following contains excerpts from Sue Bryant & Jean Koh Peters, Five Habits for Cross-Cultural Lawyering, from Race, Culture, Psychology, and Law (2005). (Read More)

Where lawyers and clients do not share a same culture, trust issues can develop. It is important for the lawyer to be understanding to build a good attorney-client relationship, and to do this they must be culturally competent.

Habit 1
Identify differences/similarities between yourself and your client. Assess the significance of the differences/similarities –this helps to identify any misunderstandings, biases, or stereotyping that may be happening. Try to be honest in identifying these differences (ethnicity, social status, religion, etc.)

Habit 2
Analyze how cultural differences/similarities may be influencing interactions between you and your client (also others involved in the legal process). Keep note of what you think may affect the case. What cultural biases could affect the jury?

Habit 3
Question your client’s behavior. Sometimes we perceive behavior from our perspective instead of from someone else’s. Consider it with Habits 1 & 2 in mind.

Habit 4
Incorporate cross-cultural knowledge. Be culturally sensitive. Ask your client questions –ask them what they think about the problem and ask for advice. If your client is from another country, ask them how it would be handled in their country.

Habit 5
Be self-analytical instead of self-judgmental. If you notice a red flag, think of ways to address it. You are more likely to stereotype when you are feeling stressed.


Where in the World is Happiness?

According to the 2018 World Happiness Report, the same countries are in the top ten as they were in the 2017 World Happiness Report, with Finland now topping the list. These are in order:

  • Finland
  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Iceland
  • Switzerland
  • Netherlands
  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • Sweden
  • Australia

The report showed a decline in American happiness that pointed to a social crisis as opposed to an economic crisis. The downward drop in the United States continued and now ranks 18,  down from number 14 in 2017 and 13 in 2016.

The report pays special attention to the social foundations of happiness for individuals and nations. It starts with global and regional charts showing the distribution of answers from approximately 3,000 respondents in each of more than 156 countries, up from 150 countries.

The 2018 report also measures 117 countries by the happiness of its immigrants.  Finland ranks highest in this category also, with the rankings closely following the general ranking with the exception of Mexico being number 10, displacing the Netherlands from the top ten as it drops to the 11th rank.   The United States, with an immigrant population of 15%, ranks 15th right behind Austria at 14th, Ireland at 13th, and Israel at 12th.

The top ten countries have remained the same as last year although some have switched places. Six key variables are surveyed for happiness, each of which digs into a different aspect of life.

These six factors are GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support (as measured by having someone to count on in times of trouble), trust (as measured by a perceived absence of corruption in government and business), perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity (as measured by recent donations). All of the top ten countries rank high in all six of these factors.


Professional Development: Perpetual Learning!

Learning never exhausts the mind.

Leonardo da Vinci

Social and human behavior science has shown that a key trait associated with success and contentment is being a life long learner.  This is much more than maintaining technical competency in your chosen field.   Perpetual learning is driven by a curiosity for knowledge and an understanding on how people and the world works.  Investor Warren Buffet, one of the most investors in history, reads fiction and other books in domains other than business or economics.  Research by Randall Kiser and others into effective lawyers has shown the correlation between the pursuit of knowledge and wise decision making which leads to effective representation of clients.  Successful learning involves a commitment to modify attitudes, perspectives, conduct and habits to produce lawyers eager to perform representation with pride. This requires more than attendance at CLE programs and is a learning grounded in scientific principles.  This includes research in neuroscience, human behavior, positive psychology, and social science applied research to lawyers and the legal profession

Please feel free to download my latest column published in November by the Pa Lawyer magazine of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.  This is the 22nd installment in my series, The Effective Lawyer.

If you are interested in receiving PDF’s of any of the others in the series listed here, please email me at