Although emotions are intertwined with most conflicts and much of what comes to law offices has some sort of emotional content, law schools tend to teach law students about how to deal with clients’ emotions (and their own), similarly to the way many lawyers in practice handle emotions, by avoiding the topic.
While Best Practices acknowledges the importance of emotional content, it is between the lines, not explicit. In Chapter 5A2b(3), there is a section titled “Help students develop interpersonal and professional skills,” but even in that section the focus is on cognitive, not affective skills.
Acknowledging and responding well to emotions is a critical part of building rapport and developing relationships of trust across all helping professions, including law practice. The professional relationships between lawyers and their clients provide the foundation for gathering accurate information and being able to effectively represent clients. We know from surveys of clients that the relationship between lawyers and their clients is more important to clients’ satisfaction than winning cases. If we are not teaching the value of acknowledging emotions are we doing a disservice to our students?
Recent research on the brain and therapy interventions indicates that when people can name the emotions they are feeling, they perceive that they are more in control of these emotions. The process of naming emotions relocates the emotions to the left side of the brain which is more linear and language based than the right side. The right side is thought to be more artistic and associated with depression and some other emotional content. Research has also found that when people are able to help others name their emotions there is a positive influence on the development of the relationships.
It may be important for lawyers and law students who fear out of control emotions to realize that they are in the greatest risk of having emotions flare when they ignore emotional signals. Learning to acknowledge and reflect feelings actually moves them into a more controlled place.
How does this relate to love? Don’t all emotions have some relationship to love, either as variations of positive feelings or through the loss or absence of love? Can we be betrayed except by someone we liked and trusted? Does it matter if we are disrespected if there was no desire for respect? Might not the family that is mired in conflict be as bound to each other in their loss of love as they were in their first blush of love, only in the opposite direction? Learning to acknowledge and appreciate the capacity of humans for experiencing emotions, positive and negative, can be seen as basic to working in a helping profession. I believe law is a helping profession and that law students would benefit from learning to acknowledge and respond to emotions as part of their preparation for law practice
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