Is There a Lack of Empathy in Law? (And How it Affects Us)
Traumatic legal processes, trained to hide personal feelings and how it impacts clients – explore why it seems there’s a lack of empathy in law (and what we can do about it)
18 Mach 2020
Trained to disconnect. Working FOR and never really with. Have you ever heard someone rave about how empathetic their lawyer is? Or an empathetic court, for that matter. Yes, there are some shining examples, but most people would not associate our legal systems with empathy.
Which begs the question: Is there a lack of empathy in law? What could be causing it? And what happens when you DO introduce empathy in law? Let’s explore…
Lack of empathy in Law
You’re not going to want for proof that there’s a distinct sense of lack of empathy in the law. But one story that really stands out is the criminal case of Donna Hamilton. (Perhaps because of her own legal background. Or the fact that her full story is so well documented in a YouTube video series at CuttingEdgeLaw.) Either way, it’s an incredible showcase of both the effects of a lack of empathy in law AND the difference showing true empathy can make.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Donna had been a court administrator for 25 years in the US, when, in a moment of depression and desperation, she embezzled a large sum of money. Something she regretted and wanted to correct. But an extremely traumatic, unforgiving and unempathetic legal process pushed her to the brink of suicide.
And it took a very special lawyer, who took her case and provided support well beyond what traditional lawyers deliver, to save her life, ensure the money was paid back and manage a reduced sentence. (You can see Donna tell her story on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)
Why does there seem to be a lack of empathy in law?
Well, you can’t deny that it seems to be how lawyers are taught. As Milkwood’s Rhiannon Thomas says at 10:15 in the below interview, lawyers are trained at law school to “keep their feelings out” of the legal process.
A sentiment that’s echoed by Australian Integrative Lawyers, Geraldine Grace and Marguerite Picard at 8:41 in the below interview, when they explain that lawyers often need additional support, simply because being able to fully understand and help a client requires skills that are outside of their training.
What is the importance of empathy in the law?
As US legal professional development expert Kendra Brodin says in her recent article at Law Practice Today, empathy has proven extremely powerful in the business world. And, in law firms, it might be the key for lawyers to retain and attract more clients, increase performance and add to the bottom line.
Here are some practical examples where empathy can make a real difference in the legal process.
Working WITH the people in the courtroom
South African magistrate Gabriela McKellar illustrates the impact of empathy in law by explaining the dynamics inside a family court. Here, there’s much less of a focus on the adversarial nature of the law (mom vs dad) and much more focus on what’s best for the child, which requires a huge shift towards empathy.
Shifting attention from the self to really understanding what the child needs, requires a lot of empathy from all parties in the court. Which has the effect of allowing a lawyer in this type of court being able to work WITH the people inside it, rather than working for the client.
Giving the gift of being heard
Brazilian integrative lawyer Fernanda Guerra explains in a recent interview how empathy helps her better serve clients, simply by enabling her to listen better. She says that emotions like fear urge us to try and control things, to try and immediately fix and control things. When, actually, practicing empathy and truly listening allows her to find much more sustainable solutions.
So, how do you find a more empathetic lawyer?
There are most definitely lots of lawyers out there who practise empathy in their firms. It’s perhaps not always clear how to find them, though.
But what we can tell you is that you’re almost assured to find empathy in Integrative Law.
In fact, empathy is at the core of all 9 shared values of integrative lawyers.
Connect with an Integrative Lawyer near you
Integrative Lawyers are very diverse and you’ll find them all around the world – see the global website.
And, if you’re based in South Africa or the United Kingdom, you’ll find a proud Integrative Legal consultancy in Milkwood.
From Conscious Contracts® to Antenuptial and Cohabitation Agreements, to Conscious Parting, Wills and Legacies. Milkwood even offers Training and Workshops on how to build your own Integrative Law practice. See our Integrative Legal Services.
At Milkwood, we are peacemakers and problem-solvers who want to help make the law a positive experience for our clients. We’re all about compassion, caring, continuous learning, humour, integrity, listening, trust and wellbeing.
And we’d love to share in your journey.