Empathy and the Law – An Often Overlooked Superpower
February 22, 2021 by Heather Fuller
Harness A New Superpower
Empathy goes beyond sympathy and compassion. It allows for a deeper understanding of others and their circumstances. Being empathetic does not imply weakness or being a pushover. Quite the contrary – empathy is a superpower that can improve us as individuals and make us better at our jobs.
A physician being able to understand the anxiety and fear of a patient receiving a devastating diagnosis is better able to tailor the treatment to address not only the physical ailments but also the psychological challenges of the patient and lends itself to favorable patient outcomes. Likewise, a law enforcement officer’s ability to stand in the shoes of individuals encountered in high-stress situations might foster a de-escalation of a confrontation and avoid unnecessary use of force.
Employing empathy in the practice of law is not only commendable but practical. Syracuse University College of Law professor Ian Gallacher eloquently explained that a “lawyer who can project him or herself into the thoughts of another and understand how that person – juror, witness, judge, or other lawyer, for example – is thinking, had the ability to calibrate language, posture, and gesture in a manner calculated to persuade the subject to believe whatever argument the lawyer is making. This is the art of persuasion at its best as understanding another’s point of view will help you better persuade them of yours.”
Lawyers dig deep into a case in terms of the facts and the applicable law, often ignoring their client’s emotion. This approach is short-sighted and may leave clients dissatisfied regardless of the outcome of the matter. Multi-dimensional management of a case leads to improved client communication and the establishment of rapport. It enables a deeper understanding of a client’s goals, which likely strengthens the case. Using your superpower to temporarily assume the role of another can translate into a tangible benefit.
While we may not all be empaths, we can all be empathetic because empathy can be taught, learned, and practiced. Harnessing empathy as your superpower will enable you to make better connections and decisions, see the bigger picture, and better anticipate your clients’ needs. Ultimately, you will be able to achieve a better end result. As Kobe Bryant said, “When you have empathy towards your teammates, it helps you communicate better…When you have empathy towards your opponents, it helps you destroy them quicker.”