“Don’t think… Feel.” – Bruce Lee
Recently, I attended my 15th year law school reunion. It was great to see old friends, renew lost connections, and make new ones. I struck up a conversation with a classmate about her career path through law after law school. I recall her as being extremely accomplished in school, confident, and ultimately finishing at the top of our class. We both noted that, while we learned a lot in law school, we did not learn how to practice law. Knowing how to practice only came after doing it. And doing it, and doing it. Then she said, “Well, law school did teach me to think like a lawyer.” I had heard this sentiment before. What we learned in law school was not the nuts and bolts of practice, but a certain analytical framework. We learned to take an issue, deconstruct it, examine it objectively from all sides, and come up with well-reasoned arguments for or against a particular position. Logic governs the analysis. Each argument follows from the last, which follows from the facts. It is a simple framework with simple rules. As students, we then opened up the old casebooks and applied those rules to old facts and used our new lingo in an effort to be persuasive. After emulating enough Learned Hand and Louis Brandeis, we eventually learned to think like lawyers.
And it does seem the case that lawyers tend to think in a certain way. Non-lawyers frequently point out the propensity to argue, to take the other side of any debate just for the sake of it, and the tenacious desire to be right, as common aspects of the lawyer personality. There is also the cool objectivity encouraged by the nature of the analytical framework itself. We are taught to look at things dispassionately, and to argue from a place of logic rather than emotion. The framework teaches that our arguments are more persuasive if they do not rely upon inherently unreliable emotions. Another way to look at it is that emotions cannot be trusted; that because they feel so, well, emotional, they are dangerous to a watertight logical argument. And so we are taught that it is improper, and indeed bad form, to make emotional arguments in a legal context. It just isn’t done.
This applies just as much to the way that lawyers comport themselves. Again, it is bad form to become emotional in court or with opposing counsel. I used to think that if I got my opponent mad, I had won. I had exposed a weakness and I could exploit that weakness, even if it was just by making me feel stronger. Accordingly, we learned very quickly in practice, to keep a tight lid on our emotions. None of it, after all, is personal. It’s just business. Emotions are the purview of clients, not lawyers. We pride ourselves on being emotional rocks upon which clients can lean when they are filled with stress and anxiety about the outcome of their conflict. It assists the client to have a counselor who is able to look at things objectively and formulate the best-reasoned course of action.
But aren’t we really just kidding ourselves here? Isn’t it personal? Don’t we get fired up and emotional about our cases? Isn’t that why lawyers say all the time that “we fall in love with our cases?” Aren’t we emotionally invested? Of course we are. We are human beings. And therefore, we are emotional creatures. Attempting to completely remove emotion from what we do is no more possible than completely removing reason. Yet, we think that is what we are doing. Maybe that just makes it easier for the logically oriented lawyer personality. Many lawyers have difficulty with the messiness of emotions because it cannot easily be reduced to or dealt with through logical argument. Rather than try to predict the outcome, better to avoid it all together.
The best lawyers, in my experience, are the ones who are not afraid of emotions, but who use them to their advantage. The best closing argument makes an impassioned plea for a certain human outcome. The winning case is the one that has woven not just the most logical arguments, but also strikes a chord of truth on an emotional level with the jury. And good lawyers know very well that every jury is made up of thinking AND feeling human beings. They know that an emotional connection can be even more powerful than a logical argument. When a jury is charged with “doing what is right,” it is much more of an emotional gut check than logical analysis. Good lawyers know this and use it to win.
So, why do so many lawyers seem closed off from emotion? Why does our training emphasize logic over emotion? Is there a way to integrate both?
In my next post, I will discuss how, in my practice, I take the analytical thought process and help lawyers critically analyze their own emotional states to gain insight into their issues, and eventually solve them.
Andrew D. Kang, JD, LICSW, is a former attorney turned licensed psychotherapist. His practice, Boston Professionals Counseling, LLC, focuses on helping attorneys and professionals with the issues they face and is located in Boston, Massachusetts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.bostonprofessionalscounseling.com