Monday, May 2, 2021

More on Lawyers, Empathy, and Collaborative Practice

A theme that appears frequently in my current teaching and writing is that we can't be excellent at collaborative practice until we understand collaborative interdisciplinary conflict resolution teams as dynamic emergent learning systems---systems in which we ourselves are a significant variable. Who each person on the team IS matters a lot, and each person's individual degree of self awareness matters a lot, at every stage of collaborative team practice.

A fertile area for reflection: for many of us who happen to be lawyers, empathy is probably not our strong suit. Yet empathy--balanced by effective practical reasoning and other "executive"functions we lawyers tend to have an easier time with--is essential for high quality conflict resolution teamwork.

Susan Daicoff wrote this about the personality characteristics of people drawn to the legal profession:

“Individuals who choose to enter law school seem to generally share the following characteristics as children: They are highly focused on academics, have greater needs for dominance, leadership and attention and they prefer initiating activity. Reading is emphasized (and remembered pleasantly in later years). Their fathers tended to be on the dominant and strong side. It was found, in a comparative study, that concern for emotional suffering and for the feelings of others tended to be less emphasized than in the childhood homes of dental or social work students.

Studies of pre-law students indicate that their mental health is similar to that of the general adult population. We find these people demonstrating definite needs to be leaders, to attract attention and to avoid feeling inferior or assuming subordinate roles.

Numerous studies have explored law students’ motivations for going into the field. Most early research addressed the predominantly male student population and found that the primary motives were “interest in the subject matter of the law, a desire for professional training and desire for intellectual stimulation.” Respondents tended to value money and prestige, but only secondarily. Altruistic concerns were relatively unimportant to this group. In recent studies, gender differences do tend to assert themselves, with female law students being more inclined toward altruistic, as opposed to practical, utilitarian and materialistic goals. However, follow up studies reveal that attorneys with these more “realistic or materialistic” goals tended to be far more satisfied in the practice than those who would characterize themselves as “humanitarian.””

Daicoff, Susan,"Lawyer, Know Thyself: A Review of Empirical Research on Attorney Attributes Bearing on Professionalism." 46 American University Law Review(1997)

While each of us emerges from our family of origin with a particular degree and quality of empathic intelligence formed in response to our earliest childhood experiences, even the least empathic of us can learn to be better at the job. This is the realm of practical NeuroCollaboration. If your practice group hasn't yet included this kind of training in its offerings to members, ask for it.