The Compassionate Lawyer

While practicing law full-time, I became increasingly aware of the role compassion played in my work. This, and my desire that compassion be a central element of my work, was a catalyst for my return to graduate school to receive education, training and licensure as a mental health counselor (LMHC), and to develop a career in the mental health field. One of my professional objectives is to support lawyers in practicing law as whole persons.

Clients with legal issues often are facing emotional turmoil and uncertainty. In family law cases, family relationships are undergoing change and, often, conflict and chaos. In criminal cases, the defendant is facing a potential loss of liberty, with all its accompanying losses. Crime victims have likely experienced trauma. Employment cases tend to involve conflict and, sometimes, job loss. Commercial law--financial stress and uncertainty. Immigration--loss of bonds established in a new country and potential return to unsettled political or other instability in one’s home country. Conflict, loss and change—the “stuff” of humanity. As a result, although lawyers’ primary job is to focus on the client’s legal concerns, lawyers frequently are called on to recognize and support the client on an emotional level.

“Lawyers cannot fix everything that is broken, yet, compassionate journeying with…clients and their loved ones can provide a sense of reassurance that is priceless beyond measure.” (Coffey, F.G. & Kessler, M.C., The Reflective Counselor: Daily Meditations for Lawyers, p. 327). Amidst the pressures and discord of law practice, many lawyers generously imbue their work with a compassionate spirit. Simply listening and, with a few consoling words, letting the client know you’ve heard; reassuring a client that you appreciate what they’re going through; connecting a client with needed non-legal resources. Despite the balancing act this can demand, I believe a compassionate approach to legal practice results in more satisfied clients and more fulfilled lawyers.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”    - Dalai Lama

Whether you are a lawyer or not, what is your experience of compassion in the legal arena? What role does compassion play in your work? Share your thoughts, share your story. Leave your comments here.


  1. Hi Maxine,
    This is a lovely piece about an often neglected facet of lawyering. For me, my mediation style contributes to how I interact with clients. I spend as much time listening as I do talking because more often than not, I find that our clients just want someone to hear them. In the indigent defense community, as you know, many of these clients have no one to really listen to them but us.

    I don't vest myself with the responsibility for fixing all of their problems because that's just not possible and it's not my job. But I find that listening without judgment and with compassion, as you say, really helps our clients. It also cements the attorney-client relationship because I find that it empowers the client to feel like a participant in their case but also to listen back to what we have to say.

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece.
    - Sejal

  2. Sejal,
    I appreciate your reference to your mediation style. What a useful approach in all facets of law practice, not just when involved in a formal mediation.

    - Maxine