Stand in the Shoes of Your Clients
09 Sep 2020
- Company Director
- Dispute Resolution
Barack Obama has said in many of his speeches that the world is suffering from an empathy deficit. He advises that, ‘to cultivate a sense of empathy … put yourself in other people’s shoes … see the world from their eyes’. He also says that ‘empathy is a quality of character that can change the world’. As members of the legal profession, we are in a unique position to help to erase this empathy deficit by standing in the shoes of our clients.
While I had been considering what I might write about in this article, following a request from your editor, it so happened that I ruptured my quad muscle in a fall. That resulted in hospitalisation and surgery to reattach the tendons to the patella, and the outcome is that I cannot bend my leg for six weeks and I then have a long period of rehabilitation to look forward to.
Although there are many with far worse injuries, the impact of the injury – and the immobility it has given rise to – made me think about all the clients that I have acted for over my nearly 40 years of legal practice. I have realised how reliant you are on others when you are unable to bend your leg, walk properly or drive a car, and it has given me some insight into what many of our clients tell us concerning their plight. It is easy to dismiss complaints about restrictions on activity, inability to perform sporting and other recreational activities, and an inability to perform simple domestic tasks. We are also regularly told about the assistance that family members and friends provide during a period of incapacity, and I did not appreciate just how important such assistance is, and how much time it can take.
As Barack Obama advises, it is often helpful to put ourselves in the position of others and to, in effect, stand in their shoes. It is easy to be cynical about our clients’ suggestions concerning pain and restrictions on activity and to dismiss instructions relating to help provided by family members or friends in terms of domestic, gardening and other activities.
Over many years, I have worked with members of the Bar and other solicitors in dealing with those injured in car accidents, work injuries and other incidents. My recent experience has highlighted for me the difficulties that many of our clients face and the need to listen carefully to what we are told and to exhibit a degree of empathy in terms of what clients are going through.
As I approach my 40th year in the ACT legal profession, I have realised that I have acted for many hundreds, possibly thousands, of clients. Whether they have been injured or suffered other legal issues, each has deserved my careful attention and the best possible legal advice I could provide. I am not sure that has always been the case but, in light of my current plight, I will certainly try to adopt that attitude in any future matters in which I have the privilege to act.