Why Don’t Lawyers Have Empathy?

Shark Car Ornament by  peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Shark Car Ornament by peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

One of my entrepreneurial friends recently asked me this question. He works with lawyers in various aspects of his life. He previously asked me, “Why are you the only lawyer I like?” His most recent question made me ponder if and how empathy plays a role in the practice of law.

We Do Have Empathy
Good lawyers do have empathy for their client’s situation. I respect that my clients are often angry and scared. Their livelihood and sense of security may be on the line. I get that. Effective lawyers get that. If nothing else, it shows that we respect our clients’ perspective on the situation.

However, the fact that we don’t commiserate with you doesn’t mean that we don’t care. The client will always be more emotionally invested in the can that the lawyer. That’s partly why you hire us – we’re more clearheaded and able to attack the situation logically, rather than feed our client’s anger and desire for revenge.

We’re Professional Problem Solvers
If you hire a lawyer, you’re paying us to fix or prevent a problem. At our core, that’s what we do.

When you’re dealing with a legal problem, there’s always a chance you could lose. By hiring a lawyer, you’re betting that the odds of getting the outcome you want are better than if you hired someone else or tried to handle it yourself.

It may seem like we don’t care if we’re not empathetic all the time, but at the end of the day, that’s not what you hired us to do. If we’re putting time and energy into validating your feelings, that’s time and energy we can’t put towards actually addressing the problem you hired to fix.

It’s Not our Job to be Nice
Sometimes we have to say things to our clients and prospective clients that they don’t want to hear, things like

  • I don’t think you have a case.
  • That’s not how the law works.

One of the reasons why the world needs lawyers is because the law is not black-and-white. If the answers were easy to find or resolution easy to achieve, people wouldn’t need lawyers to solve their problems. Sometimes the situation involves bad choices by on people on both sides of the dispute. I don’t tell my clients that they fucked up, but often times, lawyers are hired to deal with preventable problems. I don’t shame my clients for their choices – everyone makes mistakes – but I try not to sugar coat it either.

We’re lawyers, not miracle workers. We have to play the hand our client gives us.

We’re Saving You Money
One of the challenges of being a lawyer is the fact that we work and bill by the hour. I work in an eat-what-you-kill environment, so if I’m not billing, I’m not earning income. I take pride in the fact that I respect my clients’ budgets, but that means I have an obligation to work efficiently.

If a client wants to have an empathy session, that’s fine, but I have to schedule and bill them for it. On most days, I have a to-do list of projects related to multiple client’s cases and I have as much of an obligation to do quality work for each one.  That’s why when I’m in the middle of working on work for a client, I won’t take calls because the distraction will impact my work for both clients, which will force me to take longer to complete my tasks for them.

This question spawned some interesting conversation among my fellow legal eagles. It’s good to know that most lawyers I encounter seem to be thoughtful about this issue. If you want to hear more of my perspectives about being a lawyer, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

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