Those of us who practice personal injury law have a very important role for our clients. Individuals walk into our offices shouldering some of the biggest tragedies and burdens that life can bring: the recent loss of a family member or loved one or a sudden physical or mental disability that limit what the future once held. As my colleague Joel Feldman so aptly points out in this short article, when those emotionally vulnerable clients walk through the door, the lawyer has an important task at hand: combining responsibility with compassion.
Joel’s own personal experiences with loss have given him valuable insight into what it feels like to be on the other side of the attorney desk—in the position of experiencing deep grief. He has used that experience to improve his own lawyering skills and to make a difference in our community through his work with the organization End Distracted Driving.
Drawing from these experiencies, Joel offers some very important insight into how attorneys can not only better serve and understand these individuals, but can also form a crucial part of their support network.
To do so, attorneys need to overcome common misperceptions about grief. While grief is certainly unique for each individual, many people experiencing the loss of a loved one want to talk about that person and their grieving process—even if that discussion is difficult or emotional. Compassionate lawyering really means listening and not falling into the mindset of “I didn’t want to intrude on your grief” or “I didn’t want to remind them of their loss” or “I don’t know what to say to lessen someone’s grief.” When listening shifts to responding, compassionate lawyering calls for understanding, and particularly understanding that everyone grieves at their own pace and according to their own beliefs.
The best lawyer-client relationships are based on trust and understanding. Compassionate lawyering can go a long ways in building that relationship with a client who is in the beginning of their grief.