“Dear LiL: How do you ensure empathy remains a core part of your practice when it is neither a valued nor encouraged trait amongst other lawyers in big firms?” Signed ~ Do I Care Too Much?
Dear Do I Care Too Much:
Along with legal acumen and work ethic, I believe empathy to be an essential component to what makes a successful lawyer. In my opinion, law firms that do not recognize this are no longer competitive.
At its core, empathy is the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another person, see their perspective and relate to them. Empathy helps us understand how another person feels (be it a client, colleague or opposing counsel), which in turn allows us to respond appropriately.
An empathetic lawyer will be genuinely interested in another person’s story, which helps with being a good listener, a key quality in a lawyer. In every file, whether one acts for the little guy, or the biggest conglomerate in the word, there is a human being involved, in need of help. That human being comes with his or her own unique set of pressures, concerns, goals and fears. An empathetic lawyer will be deeply sensitive to these and will take them into account in coming up with the appropriate legal strategy. The client will be more satisfied and appreciative of a lawyer who does this, than one who appears disinterested in the client’s concerns and is only interested in the legal issue at hand.
All things being equal, an empathetic lawyer is also a better communicator, a better collaborator and a better negotiator, than her non-empathetic competitor. This allows the empathetic lawyer to reach better and more cost-effective solutions for her clients. The empathetic lawyer will have better relationships with both her clients and other lawyers, resulting in more (and better) referrals.
In 2017, Google released a now famous study called Project Aristotle, which showed that the company’s most innovative ideas came from so-called “B-teams” involving employees scoring high on skills and values like equality, curiosity toward others’ ideas, empathy and emotional intelligence. This was the finding despite the fact that the B-teams did not have the top computer scientists, software engineers or analysts. The better performance of the B-teams was attributed to the high levels of emotional intelligence amongst the members, fostering a micro-culture where everyone felt confident speaking up.
The Google study is old news. In my opinion, empathy and emotional intelligence are now widely recognized by companies to be critical to success, as empathetic companies are able to better meet the needs of their clients, have better retention and higher morale among their members.
All of this is to say that good law firms, big or small, do (or should!) value empathy. They may call it something else – leadership, client-tailored problem solving, collaborative approach – but, make no mistake, all of these are built on empathy.
I leave you with Theodore Roosevelt’s “nobody cares how much you know until they now how much you care”, the perfect line in response to whomever has made you wonder about empathy’s place in the lawyer’s toolbox.