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Last updated: May 2022.
Empathy is a critical skill to help effectively meet clients’ needs. The notion that a lawyer’s role is to dispassionately focus on the facts ignores the reality that for most clients, emotions cannot be separated from the issues at hand. Regardless of your practice area or the legal services you provide, clients may come to you with a variety of emotions for a variety of reasons. They not only care about the outcome in their legal matter but how they are treated. Clients want to be heard and understood.
It is important to remember that being empathetic does not mean you need to agree with everything your client says or become emotionally invested in their circumstances. Nor should empathy be equated with attempting to be a counsellor for your client.
Empathy is also very different from sympathy. See Brené Brown’s short Empathy video to learn about the difference and the four qualities of empathy.
With practice, empathy can be learned and strengthened at any age. Here are three basic tips to build your empathy skills:
- Consider other people’s perspectives. To truly put yourself “in their shoes” you need to keep an open mind, examine your own assumptions and biases, and ask questions to understand where the person is coming from.
- Engage in active listening. Give your undivided attention to the person speaking and seek to understand what they are saying, rather than what you want to say in response.
- Express yourself. There is no right way to express empathy and be forewarned it can make you feel vulnerable. But being vulnerable helps us connect with others and strengthen relationships. If you do not yet feel comfortable expressing empathy, consider how you are otherwise communicating through your body language and choice of words.
Being empathetic will not only help with your client relationships but will help with being a supportive colleague and working with others through difficult situations.
Check out this resource for other useful tips on how to be more empathetic.