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.

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.


Never Stop Learning!

There are some basic lessons learned as children that guide us as adults.  Thanks to Melaine Shannon Rothey for reminding us of the wisdom contained in Dr. Seuss.    For the professional development of Millennials, I heartily recommend the sage advice to Never Stop Learning!

The following contains excerpts from Melaine Shannon Rothey, Parting thoughts: Seek balance, don’t fear change, 19 ACBA Lawyers Journal, No. 12,  3 (Jun 9, 2017).

Remember the five lessons from Dr. Seuss:
BE YOURSELF – Who else do you want to be?
MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE – Isn’t that the reason most of us went to law school?
NEVER STOP LEARNING –Knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE – Do I really have to continue to repeat the necessity of work/life balance?
BE POSITIVE – We are surrounded by negativity all day long.

Melaine notes that there are four generations of lawyers practicing today – the Silent Generation (sometimes called Traditionalists), the Baby Boomers, the Gen X-ers and the Millennials. Each of these generations has its positives and its negatives. We can learn from both aspects. We do not always have to agree with opposing counsel or with the judge; however, we must disagree in a civil and respectful manner, whether in open court or in a pleading or in correspondence. Bad attitudes and nastygrams have no place in our profession.

Work/life balance –the line between work and home has become seriously blurred. We have to figure out a way to “check out” of the office. We have to take some serious, uninterrupted time for ourselves and our families. I know that you find this hard to believe, but the office will survive without you.

Change –change is not a bad thing. Just because we “always did it this way” does not mean that we should not try a new way to do things. At the very least, those of us that have been doing it the same way for many years should listen and entertain a new option or procedure.

Mentoring –we must mentor each other. To the Silent Generation and the Boomers, be patient with the young-uns. They really do want to learn. They will catch on and will probably improve upon the technique. Gen-Xers and Millennials, be patient with us. We are not trying to make you crazy. We are just resistant to change.


Happy While Working?

I believe that people should look forward to going to work–the proverbial “whistle while you work” of the Disney song from Snow White! This differs from the concept of work-life balance which implies to me that you can be miserable at work providing your are finding happy moments while not working.  To obtain peak performance in your work, the science shows that it is important to focus on your mood and stress factors and your work habits.

The following contains an excerpt from Harrison Barnes, You Need to Enjoy What You Are Doing, available on his blog at (Jul 19, 2016). 

One of the greatest lessons you can ever learn is that you shouldn’t be doing anything you don’t enjoy. You should enjoy getting up for your job each day. You should like the work you do and be so interested in it you think about it at night. You should like the people around you and should never do anything you don’t truly love and enjoy. There is nothing wrong with suffering though certain classes when you’re in school and there’s nothing wrong with doing certain types of grunt work; however, you really shouldn’t be doing something you do not enjoy.”  He continues by stating that “regardless of how stupid you think what you enjoy doing is, the chances are you can make a very good living doing it if you really get passionate about it.”

I don’t believe anyone, especially professionals, need to be passionate about the tasks and duties of their day, all the time. This is especially true of lawyers where so much time is routine or spend on procedural or administrative matters.  Lawyers, however, need to be engaged with the tasks and recognize that the micro tasks move the macro goals forward to the benefit of the clients or the public. 

What is a reasonable goal for the amount of a lawyer’s workweek they should expect to feel happy, content or satisfied?