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Is Lawyer Well-Being on Your List of Goals for 2018?

Posted By Sara E. Rust-Martin, Tuesday, January 2, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Happy New Year!

As we all reflect on the past year and plan for our New Year, let us ask ourselves how Lawyer Well-Being factors in to our plans for 2018? Well-Being in our profession has often been overlooked. But, to be an effective lawyer and leader one has to be healthy. Recent studies suggest our profession is not headed in a healthy direction. Yet, one author, in a recent publication, suggested that one significant contribution to achieving well-being is to engage more empathy in our interactions with each other, our clients, and ourselves.

I encourage you to check out the article and conduct your own empathy assessment!

A copy of the article Legal Education and Empathy Assessment: Implications for Mental Health, Well-being, and Future Performance

In case you'd rather have a summary of this lengthy article, rather than reading the full post, here are some of the key summary points:

From the authors’ literature review and synthesis, the following summary points show the many important roles and functions of empathy in lawyers:

  • Empathetic communication, which builds rapport and positive interaction between lawyer and client, enhances the lawyer-client relationship;
  • A free flow of information which more deeply describes and discloses both the legal and non-legal aspects of legal disputes and issues better assists lawyers in developing and executing legal strategies and arguments for more effective resolution of client concerns;
  • Clients of lawyers with higher empathetic communication experience an increased level of satisfaction because they benefit from their lawyers’ attentive listening, understanding of legal issues from client perspectives and explanations of the legal process, strategies, and advice using language that the client can understand;
  • Clients prefer lawyers whom they perceive as empathetic;
  • Empathy, a multidimensional concept which involves the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the client, enables the lawyer to see the landscape of the legal issue or dispute from multiple perspectives, facilitates the effective resolution of client legal issues, problems, or concerns;
  • Empathy motivates helping behavior and makes lawyers more inclined to uphold professional standards;
  • Empathy contributes positively to lawyer mental health and well-being and equips lawyers to attain greater happiness;
  • Compared with students in other professions, law students tend to have lower empathy levels and those levels remain stable.

Research Background: Health Professionals, Lawyers, and Empathy Assessment. “Medicine and other health professionals have long recognized the importance of empathy among their populations, and as such, has been the focused attention in developing a number of empathetic measurement tools.” Empathic behaviors, as indicated in the wide body of literature noted by the authors, has many positive links with the professional performance and mental well-being of law students and lawyers. While the legal profession may have recognized its importance for the well-being and capacity its students and practitioners, the measurement of empathy has not occurred in the law setting to the same extent as in the medical and health fields. The multi-disciplinary team of Australian researchers sought to fill this void.

The Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy (JSPE), described by the authors as “the most significant empathy scale to date”, offers a valid and reliable tool to measure empathy in medical professionals. The JSPE consists of 20 items which divide into four (4) factors: view from the patient’s perspective; understanding patient’s experiences, feelings, and cues; emotions in patient care; and thinking like the patient. Researchers have adapted and applied the scale to students of other professions such as nursing, dentistry, and pharmacy. The JSPE as adapated to these cohorts has been retitled the Jefferson Scale of Empathy – Health Provider-Student Version (JSE-HPS). The authors adapted that version to the law context by changing the phrase “health care” to “lawyer”. The phrasing of each item in the new scale for lawyers and law students – JSE-L-S – otherwise stayed the same. The intent of scale remained consistent with the widely used valid and reliable self-reported empathy scale used for health student cohorts.

Research using the JSE-HPS in the medical, dental, pharmacy, and nursing professions has shown that empathy assessment works.  Its valid and reliable results play a valuable role in those professionals’ education, training, and practice and in their well-being. Accordingly, in terms of the legal realm, the researchers argued that “it stands to reason that the same could be achieved and be highly useful”.

What the Researchers Did: Participants, Methods, and Results. Two hundred seventy-five students (nearly 92% had not cared for a person with permanent disability in their family) enrolled in an Australian law school participated in the study. The researchers adapted the four factor 20 item Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy – Health Provider – Student Version (JSE-HPS). The participants self-reported their response to twenty (20) items which comprised the four factor new empathy scale tested in the reasearch. The total score can range (from 1 to 7 for each item) from a l0w of 20 (each response as 1 – “strongly disagree”) to a high of 140 (each response as 7 – “strongly agree”). According to the test authors and researchers, “Higher scores reflect higher self-reported empathy.”

This part will not discuss the details of the principal component analyses performed by the researchers. The resulting analysis, according to the authors, “yielded a four-factor solution”. The name of each factor, i.e. “big idea”, of the new JSE-L-S empathy assessment, and each factor’s top item, appears below:

  • Factor 1 – “understanding the client’s perspective”, 5 items, top item – “Lawyers should try to think like their clients in order to render better legal advice”;
  • Factor 2 – “responding to clients’ experiences and emotions”, 7 items, top item – “Attentiveness of clients’ personal experiences does not influence legal outcomes” (a reverse scored item, i.e. higher response should be closer to 7, “strongly agree”);
  • Factor 3 – “responding to clients’ cues and behaviors”, 4 items, top item – “Understanding body language is as important as verbal communication in lawyer-client relationships”;
  • Factor 4 – “standing in clients’ shoes”, 2 items, top item – “It is difficult for a lawyer to view things from clients’ perspectives” (reverse scored)

Tags:  Wellness 

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