Why All Lawyers Should Listen To Their Doctor

November 13, 2012

Law with heartIt is odd that something that would be of such great benefit to attorneys was not said at an ABA Meeting or a CLE, but rather at a coaching conference presented by a medical school.  During his presentation at the McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School 2012 Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare Conference, Dr. Dan Siegel explained that when a doctor inquires only about physical symptoms (where does it hurt and how long has it been going on) and fails to ask about the patient’s emotional reaction to the ailment, that doctor is only treating half of the patient.   Perhaps the obvious implication is that when a physician treats half the patient, he only treats half the problem and therefore is only half as effective.  While the same likely can be said of all professionals, it is most certainly true of attorneys.

Keeping Your Eyes on the Wrong Ball

Those attorneys who believe that emotions, feelings, and matters of the heart are off-limits and have nothing to do with business are sadly and painfully mistaken.   Erroneous beliefs such as these are self-limiting and result in ineffective lawyering.  As we all know, so much of what transpires in litigation or unfolds during a deal is driven by emotion.  Clients make significant choices by instinct and major decisions only when it hits them in their gut.  Often a client’s intellect and cognitive processing have very little to do with the transaction.

If so much of what we do, why we do it, and what we want involves “how we feel” as opposed to “what we think,” why does the practice of law neglect the former and focus almost exclusively on the latter?  Why is left brain analyzing and organizing valued over right brain empathizing and socializing?  And why are other professionals such as doctors, dentists, and pharmacists relearning how to relate to their clients, but lawyers continue to miss the message.  Maybe this is unfair as it doesn’t appear that anyone has bothered to disseminate the message to the legal community.

Paying the Price

Imagine what type of meal you would order if you could only see half the menu, what type of education you would have gotten if you only attended half of the classes, and how well rested you feel when you only get half a night’s sleep.  In the case of lawyering the same occurs when we fail to ask our clients, “How do you feel?   How are you holding up?”  By neglecting to do this, we address only half of a legal issue and explore only half of a problem.  And, clearly, this has consequences.  It is easy to see how our effectiveness is impacted when we only know half the story, half the facts, and half of the variables.

Perhaps you are satisfied with reaching half of your potential.  The fact is that oftentimes being “good enough” is sufficient.  However, if passable doesn’t cut-it, you might want to consider changing your approach.  Keep in mind, it will require you to become a whole lawyer who “treats” whole clients to come up with whole solutions.  If you are still interested, when next given the chance, stare deeply into your client’s eyes and say, “How are you?”  The things is, you have to mean it.