The Best Lawyers Exert Emotional Labour

Are you invested – or just bored?

You start the morning by going to a new coffee shop.  You are served by Bob.  Bob politely takes your money, makes a coffee, hands it to you and you are done.

In the afternoon, you go to another coffee shop.  You are greeted warmly with a smile by Mary.  Mary enquires how your day is going, takes your coffee order, and while you are waiting you sit down.  Mary brings your coffee out to you (rather than calling your name) hands you your coffee and wishes you a good day.  She says that she hopes to see you again tomorrow.

Which experience is more memorable?  Which coffee shop are you likely to visit again, assuming the coffee is of equal quality?

Emotional Labour 101

Lawyers who have the greatest impact on their clients and within their firms are those who exert the most emotional labour.

What do I mean?

I mean that 2 people can produce the exact same job, but one will outperform the other every day of the week and twice on Mondays.

Mary and Bob made the same quality cup of coffee – but you’ll be seeing Mary again.  You make that choice because Mary distinguished herself.  She didn’t do it through flamboyance, or through “look at me look at me” theatrics – she did it because she exerted emotional labour.  She went above and beyond her job of making coffee, and went out of her way to make your day as pleasant as she could.

Investment In your Clients

Here is an interesting fact for you – most clients assume that most lawyers have similar levels of expertise.

Whether that is true or not isn’t relevant – it’s the perception that matters.

What it means is that, except in rare circumstances, clients are not making choices about lawyers based on expertise, but on other things.

But if you are a lawyer who just “goes through the motions” and produces a good product without any personal investment, are you really serving your client as well as you can?  Are you going to distinguish yourself?

The absolute best way you can distinguish yourself with clients is to go beyond the technical.

Here are some ways to be more like Mary with your clients in a legal context:

  • Call to find out how somebody is going;
  • Pay attention to birthdays, family members, and wellbeing of your client;
  • Share a little of yourself – obviously you need some boundaries, but showing a little trust can build some in return;
  • Show enthusiasm for your job.  Lawyers fall easily into the trap of being overly dull.  Try not to fall into that hole.

These are simply, habitual, things that can start to show that you are invested in your clients more than just on a business sense.  You might produce the same work, the same cost, the same timeframes – but if you form an emotional connection with your clients you’ll have a far better opportunity to build trust, gain referrals, and when things go wrong – be forgiven.

Investment in your Firm

Similarly the distinguishing employees are those who actually care about their firm.

It’s easy to spot the ones who aren’t.  They are the ones who work to the clock.  They work (not too fast) just enough to get through the day then they leave.  They don’t express views about issues because they don’t care to.  They spot errors in systems but don’t bother mentioning them or proposing solutions.  In short – they just make the coffee like Bob does.

Although it’s not always about work hours, the emotionally invested employee voluntarily stays to get the job done – not because of obligation, but because they want the firm to do a good job.

These are the employees who seek out ways to improve systems and make suggestions.

They are employees who weigh in on decisions rather than just waiting to be told what to do next.

Invested lawyers participate with the firm.  They engage with the partners and the staff.  They form bonds, relationships, and trust with other people.

Invested lawyers look to the long term success of the firm – they aren’t content for the firm to stagnate, but they want to see it grow, succeed, and thrive in a competitive environment.

How are you Invested?

Think back over the last week with your clients and your firm.  What examples are there of you exerting your emotional labour in either respect?  If you have some good examples, why not share them with us as some encouragement – we’re all always looking for more ideas about how we can contribute more to clients and firm.

Happy lawyering!


  • Another good post Chris. In the end it all comes back to connecting with clients. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that it’s all about client perception. Those who the client perceives as being a better attorney, whether they are or not, are going to get more business. Keep the good content coming.

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