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Saturday, May 8, 2021

The Myth of the Heartless Lawyer

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Although we’re often painted as cold and unfeeling, the fact is that most lawyers got into the profession because of a deep desire to connect with and help other people.

Sometimes we just let our manner and our education get in the way of our humanity.

Impartial lawyer
To bad, so sad

But Aren’t we Supposed to be Impartial, Objective Advisers?

[clickToTweet tweet=”Pretending that you have NO emotional connection with your client or your self is dangerous.” quote=”Pretending that you have NO emotional connection with your client or your self is dangerous.”]

Yes and no.

The success of your practice is ultimately going to be determined by your ability to connect with people.

Human people.

At a human level.

The means you need to command not just logic and law, but emotion and character as well.

Our objectivity allows us to deliver the correct advice in a situation as best we can.  It ensures that our ability to give sound legal opinions isn’t skewed by our emotional connection with our clients.

But pretending that you have NO emotional connection with your client or your self is dangerous and false. It’s also going to harm your career over the long term. Let’s take a look at why.

Dealing with Errors Requires Relationship Management… Not More Law

You’re going to make a mistake in your career.  Probably more than one.

And when you do, there are no legal texts in all the world that will tell you what’s going to happen next.

Because what happens next is emotional, at two levels:

  1. your own reaction to the situation – heart thumping in your chest, stomach churning and inability to sleep
  2. your client’s reaction to the situation – dealing with the error means you’re going to need to have both an existing relationship with your client that will get them through it, and the emotional intelligence to honestly, ethically and effectively move on from the mistake without eroding trust.

Litigation Requires Heart

Anybody who works in disputes needs to be particularly attuned to the emotional state of their own client, and the other side.

There’s necessarily a bit of speculation here.

But responding to argumentative letters, deciding upon 1 out of 10 options, and dealing with high-cost, high stakes decisions requires a lot of emotional labour.

If you are blind to the emotional consequences to your client or the other party, then you’re more likely to give poor strategic advice. You’re also less likely to see warning signs that things are getting out of hand at either side of the bar table. You can’t react to what you don’t see, and so if your client suddenly has a meltdown you’ll be taken unawares.

Of course the same considerations are required in commercial and personal matters – but as litigation is longer term, you have a greater opportunity to try and use emotion as part of your overall approach.

Negotiated Resolutions Are Emotional

Most litigators these days encourage alternative forms of dispute resolution fairly early in the piece.

But that’s not always a good idea.

If you accept (as you should) that big decisions are rarely made on logic alone, then factoring the emotional status of your client and their opponent into the decision to negotiate is an absolute must.

Not just WHAT you say when you are in negotiations, but WHEN you should enter into negotiations at all.

Sometimes early negotiations are a bad idea – not because early resolutions are bad, but because the emotional response to the situation is still so irrationally raw that the emotional factors completely blot out the other pieces of the puzzle.

A few days, weeks or months can make a big difference when you’re deciding on negotiation strategy.

Building a Practice Requires Human Connection

I’m sure the continued obsession with AI might have you concerned, but the truth remains the same: people work with lawyers that they know, like and trust.

It’s been true for a long time.

Trust requires vulnerability.

Vulnerability requires emotion.

You can’t create human connection over the long term with your encyclopaedic knowledge of Civil Procedure.

Civil Procedure is just a tool.

It’s YOU that creates the connections that build your practice.

Wellness Requires Emotion

[clickToTweet tweet=”Self-awareness is a critical factor in your success over the long term.” quote=”Self-awareness is a critical factor in your success over the long term.”]

Pretending that you can compartmentalise your emotions completely is a recipe for disaster in your mental health.

It’s true that we might need to be a little careful here.  After all, your client may not be well served by you bursting into tears after something goes wrong.

However, that doesn’t mean you didn’t have an emotional response at all – it just means you needed to consider what your reaction was to the emotion.

Self-awareness is a critical factor in your success over the long term. Not just awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, but awareness of your emotional reactions and what they do to you over time.

How are they changing you?

Are you shutting off the emotional side and becoming cold and callous? Are you engaging in coping mechanisms? Are you constantly cynical?

A fully integrated human being must consider all of the aspects of themselves.

Otherwise you’re on the path to burnout and involuntary career change.

Those are My Top 5 – What are Yours?

I’m sure that emotional integration into your practice isn’t limited to these 5 areas.

What are some areas where you see the need for lawyers to embrace their emotions in order to serve their clients or retain their wellness?

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