Our prompt this week focused on empathy in law. More specifically, we were asked to find examples of empathy in companies, define what empathy in law curriculum might look like, or give examples of how a law firm might incorporate empathy into its culture or work. In this post, I adopted to try a different method of blogging by telling a short story about a woman interacting with a firm created around these principles.
Susan wasn't sure if she was ready to go inside. She pressed her hands into her eyes as she sat in the parking lot. She could barely believe that she was able to drive herself to her appointment considering that the accident took place two months ago. It still felt like it happened yesterday.
As she got out of her car, she remembered pouring over countless law firm websites in her area, listening to her friend's recommendations, and reading reviews online. None of the materials she read seemed to really make her feel. . . comfortable. In fact, she remembered feeling hopeless because most seemed to focus on winning. She remembered feeling like all emotion had been removed from the issues she read about. In fact, many of the advertisements she saw were terrible.
That was when her friend recommended Red Cedar Law. She pulled up their website and found it unlike any of the others she had seen before. Instead of reading about winning statistics or high-payout cases, she found pages dedicated to telling stories written by previous customers.
"I never had interacted with the law before," wrote one customer, "My attorney, James, sat down and simply listened to me tell my story, free of charge. While free of charge sounds good, it was the fact that the attorney listened free of judgment that made me feel the value of their service." Susan smiled as she remembered reading that story and countless others before making a phone call and setting up her appointment.
* * * * * *
"Hi Susan, I'm so glad that you came in today to speak with me," said Cindy, the attorney who spoke to Susan when she arranged her appointment.
"Thank you Cindy, I have to be honest and say that it was very difficult for me to get here today. This is the first time I've driven alone since the accident, but I knew this was important."
"Thank you for making that drive Susan. It sounds like that drive meant a lot more to you than simply making it from one destination to another. I want you to know that I am ready to listen to you tell me about what brings you in today beyond what you said on the phone whenever you feel comfortable."
"That sounds great Cindy. Before we begin though . . . could you tell me what it is your doing right now? I mean, I read the materials on the website, but I want to know what makes Red Cedar different when it comes to dealing with its clients."
"Well I can already tell that you have done your research! Why don't I begin by telling you a little bit about what drove us to create a different type of law firm, and some of the processes that underlie our firm's approaching to interacting with clients?"
"That sounds great," said Susan.
"Well, to begin with, I have to be honest and say that I never had really interacted much with the court system myself growing up. I always knew that I wanted to be lawyer, which in retrospect, seems ironic given my lack of understanding from someone in your perspective. All that changed when I took a new client-counseling and empathic listening course my law school offered. This was around the same time when President Obama suggested that a Supreme Court justice should have empathy. Something about that speech seemed to connect with me. That, and the class completely changed my perspective on client intake, client perspectives, and interactions with lawyers."
"Our class was completely different from anything else I had experienced in law school. Starting off on day one, our teacher arranged to have us sit at a table in a fictional law office. This was before we had done any reading or had any understanding of what the class would be about. We each sat down alone in the fictional law office and waited for a "client" to come in and tell us a very deep story about what brought them to our office. "
"As law students, I remember thinking I needed to take copious notes and look for great legal points for us in these stories. As I hunched with my head down in my legal pad, I remember thinking- something about this feels wrong. So I stopped taking notes, and listened to the story, trying my best not to comment or judge. This was the first in many exercises where we learned how to train our emotional intelligence."
"In the remainder of our class, we continued to work on a number of role plays where we adopted different perspectives: attorneys, paralegals, receptionists, and clients. We were challenged to share a personal story in these role plays, and we even went to law firms to see what it felt like to sit in the client's chair. These were invaluable experiences to someone like myself, who had never sat in that chair before."
"We also covered client complaints, we read complaints to bar authorities, and we spoke to satisfied and dissatisfied legal customers. Most importantly however, we learned how the science behind emotional intelligence."
"Fundamentally, the law is a service industry. We learned that lawyers interact with individuals in some of their hardest times of need: personal injury cases, probate and family planning, divorce, and even death and incarceration. In these circumstances, empathy is an important and necessary tool every lawyer should utilize to maximize client satisfaction and provide the support that customer's such as yourself seek."
"Empathy involves recognizing, understanding, and appreciating how others feel. I may never have been in situation exactly like you have, but I can appreciate and attempt to feel what you are feeling in a nonjudgmental fashion. I'm not here today to give you a silver-lining about the accident that brings you into our office, nor am I here to impress you with legal arguments. We are both human beings, and as a fellow human I need to feel what you are feeling before I can best serve you."
"I'm sure you've seen other firms that will tell you they have seen over a hundred cases like yours. I'm not going to do that today, because your cases is exactly that: its your case. I've never spoken to your before, nor do I have any idea about who you are, what you think, or how this incident has impacted your life."
"At Red Cedar, these conversations are the first part of our partnership with you as a customer, and also as a person. Our mission as a firm is to improve the image of the profession through meaningful and impactful customer interactions."
"So, with all of that said I hope I've answered your question," finished Cindy.
"Yes. I think I've made the right choice," said Susan.
"Great Susan. Tell me what brings you in today . . ."