On the Power of Empathy

By: Esmat Hanano, IAC Student Intern Spring 2019

During my two semesters in the Clinic, I have had a number of amazing opportunities. I think the most important, and useful, opportunity was learning about how critical empathy is for a successful attorney. From helping clients reach a resolution to their disputes to advocating on behalf of retail investors in different settings, empathy plays a significant role in an attorney’s work. My experiences in the Clinic showed me how versatile empathy is for the work of an attorney. Moreover, my time in the Clinic has also taught me how to empathize with clients and how to use that empathy for the benefit of the client.

A common refrain throughout my courses in law school was that, more often than not, lawyers will have to cabin their emotions to help clients. My advocacy professors stressed the importance of remaining calm and collected during trials and appearances in court. Although this is sound advice for a court proceeding, it does not apply with the same force when interacting with a client. My time in the Clinic is evidence that empathy is a powerful tool for understanding the nature of the problem that the client is facing and for getting the client to trust their attorney.

To build a fruitful attorney-client relationship, clients have to trust their attorneys and know that they are working for their best interest. An attorney that shows empathy for their client’s situation can signal to their client that they understand the problem on a deeper level. The most impactful client interactions I have had in the Clinic were when the client simply thanked me for listening to their struggles with the securities industry. Sometimes all the client needs to move on from a bad relationship with their broker-dealer is an empathetic listener.

Empathy has other benefits beyond the attorney-client relationship. Empathy can make lawyers better advocates for their clients. When we empathize and understand the nature of the issue facing the client, we can convey those struggles to others in a more persuasive manner. The crux of effective advocacy is giving others insight into the issues our client is facing from the client’s perspective. By using empathy to convey that message, lawyers can make others understand the dispute in a way that they might not have before.

My time in the Clinic has shown me the versatile role that empathy plays in the work of attorneys, and I am excited to put my experiences in the Clinic to the test as new attorney.