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Friday, October 30, 2020

Are Lawyers Trained to be Inhuman?

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I always find it interesting to think about “how lawyers are”. I’m sure you’ve noticed it – we have a way of thinking, a way of talking, a way of analysing problems that’s… different to other people.

Some people call us cold.

Some people say we’re cynical.

And according to Forbes (at least, in 2013) we’re the second most likely bunch of professionals to be psychopaths.

I don’t buy those propositions.

Most Lawyers Want to Help People

Of the many lawyers I have spoken to, a huge number “got into law” because they either wanted to help people, or they enjoyed solving problems.

Either way, the end result is the same: most of us didn’t get into this game for ourselves.

The public perception of lawyers isn’t that good necessarily, because people assume (for various reasons) that we are greedy, selfish and ultimately only interested in getting paid.

I’m sure there are some lawyers like that – but most aren’t, at least to begin with.

Lawyers Solve Problems Differently than “Normal” People

When faced with a problem (whether personal, professional or business related) our instinct is to approach it in a particular way.

We collect the facts.

We assess the options and the risks and benefits of each.

We make a choice (or a recommendation to ourselves).

We act (at least – once we’ve finished stuffing around worrying about the risks).

Lawyers are Logical

As a rule, we frequently temper our emotional response to situations, preferring instead to allow our logical side to take over the decision making process. You know – like Spock.

So did we start like this? Is this why we went into law in the first place?

Or did law school teach us to be like this, with its many exams and assignments gradually encouraging us to look at problem solving with a calculating approach rather than an emotional reaction.

Or perhaps it didn’t teach us that on purpose. Perhaps it taught us that inadvertently through the way most universities approach assessment.

After all, the chances that you’ll get top marks at law school if you answer the question “how would you advise the client” with “I’d say she should jump on Facebook and post a rant, and then go and have a good cry with her mum and eat a bowl of icecream” or “he should head to the pub and drink a bottle of scotch, get in a punch up and go home after his mates post bail for him” (the transparent gender stereotypes there were on purpose – don’t send me emails about them).

And yet those emotional responses might be entirely possible for any “normal” person.

Are we not normal?

As always, I suspect the truth is a bit of both – we started this way, which is what attracted us to the law in the first place.

We then were trained and honed in thinking analytically for problem solving. We face so many issues to “solve” that we become accustomed to looking at it from a high level, rather than a base level. This can make us seem a little aloof to others, but to us it’s just how we engage with the issue and try to help them.

That’s not always a good thing, of course. Our calculating approach to things can mean that we don’t listen properly.

It can also mean that we don’t establish trust with our clients that well, and it can mean that we’re not as persuasive as we need to be.

Whatever the cause, it’s how we are now. Being aware of it is the first step to solving it though.

What do you think – did we start this way, or was it instilled into us? Is it a problem?

Happy Lawyering!

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4 COMMENTS

  • Its funny how the exact principles described here and encouraged in law school have so far managed to prove ruinous to two long term relationships so far.
    Can’t win em’ all I guess.

  • This is actually how we are perceived very often. I must have been a bit of that before law school; people tend to feel that we either don’t care or don’t listen.

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