Wednesday, April 27, 2021

Lawyers and Empathy

New research reported this week in Scientific American shows that physicians get less empathic as they see more patients and progress through their medical training, a finding that mirrors studies about the impact of law school on lawyers that Susan Daicoff has cited in her many writings about the social psychology of lawyers.

The new studies suggest that physicians who must deal regularly with patients experiencing pain become so successful at suppressing empathy that in functional brain scans, the area of their brains which would normally register an empathic response to an image of a person in pain in fact showed nothing measurable going on. All the measurable brain activity took place in the higher cognitive areas of the brain.

"Compared to controls, the physicians showed significantly less response in brain regions involved in empathy for pain. In addition, the physicians showed significantly greater activation of areas involved in executive control, self-regulation and thinking about the mental states of others. The physicians appeared to show less empathy and more of a higher-level cognitive response."

Why would this be so? Physicians "need to have daily communication with patients who are physically injured, bleeding or otherwise suffering. Being too focused on the patient’s pain can make the doctor less effective. Suppressing the response to others’ pain may in fact free up information processing resources to more effectively solve clinical problems. This argument explains the finding that physicians get less empathic as they see more patients and progress through their training."

Sounds a lot like what lawyers experience on the job: daily contact with clients who are visibly suffering. The problem is that while suppressing empathy in favor of rational problem solving helps with certain aspects of medical practice, absence of empathy diminishes the quality of care.

" Empathy is invaluable for motivating the whole process of delivering care, for ensuring effective communication (who wants to talk about embarrassing symptoms to a frigid doc?), and for building long-term relationships of trust between doctors and patients.The job of any physician is therefore part empathic and part problem solving. This constitutes an inherent trade-off in medicine because the human brain does not have infinite computational resources or time to perform both tasks equally well. One must be caring while also figuring out a proper diagnosis, prognosis and treatment, often under conditions of uncertainty."

Substitute "lawyer" for physician, and these studies tell us that empathy on the part of lawyers isn't just touchy-feely icing on the professional services cake. Empathy is more like baking powder: without it, the entire cake is flat, tough, and inedible.

Why a joint Tesler/Mosten training?

That's a question I've been asked recently by practice group leaders considering sponsorship.

The answer: Woody Mosten and I devised the forthcoming series of joint trainings for colleagues who have invested considerable time and effort in developing their collaborative practices but who still don't have as much collaborative case work as they would like. Woody and I have not trained together before, but each of us in all our trainings teaches understandings and skills proven to take individuals' practices to the next level in the transition to full-time collaborative peacemaker.

Woody's approach is to focus on concrete, teachable tools and skills that participants can learn and replicate immediately in their work with clients.

I also teach specific skills, but I do so in the context of exploring how one's way of presenting CP to clients reflects beliefs and understandings about the nature and significance of our work that may be hidden from the individual professional, and yet may directly shape the clients' response re whether to choose CP or not. I teach how to recognize and alter these beliefs, how to develop a congruent understanding on the team and in the practice community about the nature and importance of CP, and how to express it powerfully during the process choice phase with each incoming client. I also challenge the concept of lawyer-driven "triage" at the process choice stage as it impacts interdisciplinary team practice, and the insidious effect of legal-template thinking at every stage of our collaborative work, with clients and on the team.

By training together Woody and I hope to provide participants with an extraordinarily broad range of skills, tools, and understandings that can speed the transition to full-time collaborative practice--a range that no single trainer could offer.

Friday, April 22, 2021

Generous Offer from Denver Colleagues

For any collaborative professionals who have interest in coming to the Denver Master Class in June but are feeling the economic pinch, the event sponsors have offered to provide accommodations in members' homes if that would make attending more affordable. Contact Terri Harrington for further information.

Becoming a Full-Time Peacemaker

If you want to take your collaborative practice to the next level, consider attending one of the three forthcoming "Master Classes" being offered jointly by me and Woody Mosten.

Woody and I represent very different--and complementary--approaches to building a highly successful collaborative conflict resolution practice. Together we offer a very broad spectrum of proven understandings, skills, techniques, and practices that can take you from "sometimes collaborative" to full-time collaborative professional.

We presently have on calendar three "Master Classes"-- West, Midwest, and East Coast. Each sponsoring group welcomes participants from outside their communities. Consider joining us---we know you'll take back concrete techniques that work.

Here are the specifics:

Denver, June 23-25: Contact: Terri Harrington--

St. Louis, December 1-3: Contact: Yvonne Homeyer--

Pittsburgh, February 2-4: Contact: Mark Gubinsky--

Thursday, April 21, 2021

Collaborative Divorce "Master Class" in Denver

Join me and Woody Mosten for three days in our first joint Collaborative Divorce "Master Class" on June 23-25, 2011 in downtown Denver, Colorado. Colorado Collaborative Law Professionals, the statewide collaborative practice organization, is sponsoring this first-of-its-kind event, in which Woody and I will teach proven strategies and techniques for jump-starting and sustaining a vibrant collaborative practice.

In addition to three full days of training, the event includes two optional informal evening discussion sessions with Pauline and Woody.