Lawyers in some areas of law usually deal with more emotionally charged situations than others. This is especially true for those involved in personal injury and family law, where traumatic events often lead to highly charged emotions. Empathy training for personal injury lawyers helps develop their skills to support and reassure.
What is the Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy?
Empathy should not be confused with sympathy. Both these concepts provide comfort to another person. However, sympathy is the expression of compassion, whereas empathy entails sharing in the person’s emotion.
Therefore, sympathy is when you say, “I’m sorry.” Showing empathy is when you can provide support and reassurance by saying, “I do understand. Others have experienced the same, and I am here to help you.”
Empathy allows your clients to feel supported, reassured, and safe when discussing the details of their injury claim with you. You are putting yourself in their shoes and imagining how they are feeling and what they are thinking.
Types of Empathy
There are two types of empathy – cognitive and emotional. Cognitive empathy is when you think from the same perspective as your client. Emotional empathy is when you can imagine what your client is feeling. This is also known as affective empathy.
Showing genuine empathy as a personal injury lawyer requires a combination of these two forms of empathy. You think from the same perspective as your client, but also understand these emotions are based on your client’s experience.
Importance of Empathy for Personal Injury Lawyers
Empathy should be present at every level of your law firm. From the moment an injured party reaches out and makes a phone call, the person answering the call needs to connect with them emotionally. This immediately helps put the client at ease, making it easier for them to bring their case to your firm.
Insincerity and lack of empathy have the opposite effect, sending the signal that the client should look for legal representation elsewhere.
As a personal injury lawyer, empathy training allows you to connect with the human element of every case. You understand that people’s lives were affected by the injury behind every case, causing them financial and emotional trauma.
Empathy training should start as early as law school because it teaches law students a better understanding of individual behavior within their peer group. With empathy training, legal students understand how positive conversations allow them to use a constructive approach when resolving issues. This approach helps them work better when group projects are called for, allowing them to implement practical strategies. This equips law students to carry on this role throughout their career, offering it to colleagues and clients.
Former US President Barak Obama also stressed the importance of empathy when choosing a new Supreme Court Justice nominee in 2009. He emphasized that ideological questions were pushed aside by the need for someone that would have compassion. At the time, he said: “…laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives — whether they can make a living, care for their families, feel safe in their homes, and welcome in their nation.”
Why Must You Develop Your Empathy?
Some people are more inclined to empathy than others, and some can never feel it. Generally, it’s a skill developed during childhood, but older individuals can also be taught better compassion.
Technology provides you with tools to make your workload and that of your employees easier. This leaves you all more time to concentrate on showing empathy to your clients. Your empathy will reflect on everyone in your office, making them more motivated and productive. This will help you have:
- Amplified productivity by everyone in your legal practice.
- Employee retention, engagement, and increased feelings of inclusion for diverse employees and colleagues.
- Increased client satisfaction because your empathy allows you to connect with them, and they can see you feel their concerns, frustrations, and needs.
- Prioritize empathy within your law firm. Lead with it, and everyone else will follow.
- Notice the symptoms of overworked colleagues, and look for solutions.
- Give your clients your undivided attention. Listen carefully to what they have to say, making sure you don’t miss out on any vital information.
- Legal negotiations can be complex, but keep an open mind and look for practical solutions.
- Offer your clients succinct explanations and answers. They are not law professors but want plain explanations about every stage of their case.
- Build attorney-client trust by working on getting to know your clients.
- Clients are under a lot of stress which can make them appear ungrateful or demanding. Top this with the pressures of the job and late nights. You may feel tempted to lose your patience. Don’t! As a good counsel, you need to show compassion and a calm demeanor.