Empathetic Family Law Attorneys

Posted By Pasadena Family Law Attorney || 22-Jun-2010

My last blog entitled, "The Cause and Effect of the Historical Shift in the Role of Attorneys" explained that a lawyer's role in peacefully resolving disputes ended in the 1960's, when individuals began pursuing the practice of law seeking wealth and power rather than to address social issues and to help people. The personality characteristics of those entering the field of law changed in accordance with that shift.

According to a June, 1997 article from the American University Law Review entitled, "Lawyer, Knowing Thyself: A Review of Empirical Research on Attorney Attributes Bearing on Professionalism", "Lawyers' relationships with their clients and with the public likely suffer as a result of lawyers' preference for introversion, thinking, and objective analysis, compounded by a lack of sensitivity to human, emotional, interpersonal concerns. Lawyers' preference for introversion suggests an indifference to their outer world, including other people, and their preference for thinking implies a cool, impersonal attitude, both of which suggest that they may not relate well to other people, including their clients. There is recent evidence that lawyers are actually more like engineers than they are like nurses or teachers, being logical and unemotional, yet unlike engineers, in that their work is inextricably involved in interpersonal conflicts and issues. These lawyer attributes, although they may be adaptive for the practice of law because they allow the lawyer to avoid feeling unduly emotional about his or her clients' cases, may be maladaptive in the client counseling part of legal practice. One might conclude that lawyers should become more emotional, partial, compassionate, and interpersonally sensitive. However, there is evidence that humanistic, people-oriented individuals are the least satisfied lawyers."

The article refers to a suggestion by Leonard H. Churmir, Ph.D. "that law schools, large law firms, and judicial appointments committees might consider motivation testing in order to place or direct law students, new lawyers, and politically appointed judges, respectively, and ensure that they will be 'good fits for the position.'" I found this suggestion of great interest because recently and prior to learning of that suggestion, I had a conversation with a colleague wherein we discussed "the mental state of the attorneys and how their own personalities can interfere with resolving cases." I told her that "an attorney's own personality was pivotal in potentially having a negative effect on the people they serve" and that before being granted a license to practice law, applicants should be required to undergo some sort of motivation testing. I recognize and appreciate the fact that the United States is a free country and that the possibility of requiring such motivational testing is unlikely. However, my area of practice is family law and the potential negative effect that lawyers with a "lack of sensitivity to human, emotional, interpersonal concerns" cause a great deal of damage to families and the children of those families are innocent victims. That damage is sometimes irreversible and otherwise can take a great deal of therapy to reverse.

In an article entitled, "Divorce and the Client's Emotional Needs: What Every Divorce Attorney Should Know", Dr. Deborah Hecker states, "Although divorce lawyers do not need to be trained psychotherapists to represent their clients successfully, they need to do what they can to reduce conflict and promote a divorce environment that helps their client remain focused, calm, and goal-directed. An empathetic divorce attorney can see through the anger, greed, and grief and not allow it to impede a successful legal resolution.... A divorce attorney who understands the psychological stages the client is experiencing can better promote adult behavior and provide quality legal resolution."

In 2002, the Section of Litigation of the American Bar Association prepared a report entitled, "Public Perceptions of Lawyers Consumer Research Findings".Among other things, that report found that "some consumers feel that lawyers do more harm than good. This is particularly true of people going through a divorce. They say that divorce lawyers can exacerbate an already difficult situation.... This idea does not just come from the media. Personal experiences bear it out."

After the discussion I had with my colleague wherein we discussed the mental state of attorneys, she published an article entitled, "Family Law Attorneys Can Make Or Break Your Case". In that article, she references our discussion states, "My colleague made a great point. The more I do this, the more convinced I am that choosing the right attorney is one of the most important decisions you can make."