Empathy and Legal Practice

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, to sense, understand, and relate to the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of others.
As lawyers, sometimes it can feel challenging for us to empathize with one another, as we are trained to “poke holes” in someone else’s position as opposed to attempting to relate to it.

1. Consider How Your Client Perceives the Issue – And Cater to That.

Will this case be your client’s first experience in a legal setting? Take the time to explain concepts that might be new to them. Is your client a lawyer too? Provide them with the in-depth, complex updates that you would appreciate if you were in their position.

2. Active Listening.

Clients who feel that their lawyer understands them are more willing to provide information, including information that might be potentially embarrassing yet important to their case.
Active listening, which is a technique used to demonstrate empathy, has long been heralded as the key to effective legal interviewing and counselling. Through active listening, empathic lawyers can bolster their clients’ trust and more effectively open lines of communication.
Active listening “can also reduce client anxiety, which can lead to increased accuracy and relevancy in what the client tells the lawyer, and can prevent, or at least diminish, hostility toward the lawyer.”

3. Walking in Your Client’s Shoes.

When lawyers become more person-centred, and not exclusively problem-centred, the lawyer/client relationship can blossom and improve. Lawyers orient to fact, not feeling. The message from clients shouts loud and clear that their lawyers’ one-dimensional approach of focusing predominantly on facts needs to change.
Sympathy emphasises the speaker’s perspective by putting into words the speaker’s reactions to and feelings about the other person’s situation. Sympathetic statements begin with ‘I’. Empathic statements usually begin with ‘you’.

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