A pragmatic lawyer
The idea of being an empathetic lawyer, or at least the idea that a lawyer should show empathy when he or she is practicing law, is not exactly a new idea. The idea of the empathetic lawyer has gained prominence over the last decade as the legal industry has taken a more introspective view of how lawyers should operate, the priorities they should have and what constitutes client value.
A lawyer who is not empathetic to his or her clients will service clients the way the lawyer sees fit, based on nothing more than the lawyer’s own opinion of how clients should be serviced.
But a lawyer who is empathetic will build the entire client experience by standing in their client’s shoes. The lawyer will ask questions like: “What information would I want to know if I was a client?” and “How frequently would I want to be updated about my case?” By standing in the shoes of the client, the lawyer and his or her colleagues can service a client in a way that anticipates concerns and makes the client experience as frictionless as possible. This improved client service will likely lead to happier clients. Happier clients tend to leave favorable reviews and testimonials, provide strong referrals and pay their bills.
Lawyers can and should show empathy to their adversaries as well. Seeing the world from an adversary’s perspective is key to understanding what exactly the other side wants to get out of a legal dispute. In addition, showing empathy to adversaries can disarm them and help dampen any ill will created by the dispute.
Armed with an understanding of what an adversary wants to get out of a legal dispute, a lawyer can better advise his or her client as to the path forward to resolution, leading to a speedier, more efficient conclusion. And because the lawyer and the client have an idea of what is most important to the adversary, the dispute may be resolved with fewer concessions on the part of the client and perhaps more concessions on the part of the adversary.
Theodore Roosevelt said: “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” When lawyers demonstrate empathy, they are likely to find that they have become more effective lawyers and marketers and are recognized for their superior client value more often. A more effective lawyer—who also happens to be a more effective marketer—will almost certainly become a more successful lawye
The quality of empathy doesn’t make lawyers smarter, or better reasoned, or help them find the right Ninth Circuit case to cite in their Supreme Court brief. In that sense, it doesn’t have much to do with legal practice—and its application certainly isn’t limited to the law. From consumer-products companies that use focus groups, to automakers that study ergonomic design, many different enterprises can and do benefit by thinking from their customers’ perspective. Certainly, when we design new products and improve existing ones at Bloomberg Law, we are always thinking from our clients’ perspective.
Being empathetic will make any lawyer better at their job. The legal industry has slowly been waking up to this knowledge for some time. The profession is gradually shifting to a Copernican view that puts the client, rather than the lawyer, at the center of things. You can see it in little shifts, like the one that occurred some years ago when law firms realized that they should organize their websites by industry (as their clients would think) rather than legal practice areas (as lawyers would think).
Individual lawyers can take this insight much further, and gain much more from it. My experience is just one example, but it’s clear to me that lawyers who can truly view issues as their clients do will develop stronger relationships with them. They will understand their goals, fears, and needs at a level of depth that will make them much more effective advocates. And of course taking the time to connect with clients will help attorneys further stand out in today’s very competitive market.
When Eric called me the day after the merger was completed, he didn’t ask a financial or legal question. Instead he asked: “How do you feel?” It was an empathetic question—just the kind a great lawyer would ask.