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Using humanity rather than lawyering in dealing with clients and others in distress

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Most of my clients feel disharmony and even distress to one extent or another, some to the point that they obsess daily about their cases. A few are angelic at all times, apparently even when I am not around, understanding that the past has already happened, and that we are going to fight as best we can to the finish, to harmonize their situation as best we can.

In the midst of feeling disharmony and distress, some clients, potential clients and their loved ones will say injudicious things. I suppose that surgeons experience that frequently when dealing with life or death matters.

At my best, I take off my lawyer’s hat when my clients pour out their hearts — at times spouting — to me about their concerns about their case, give them my full presence (which I want always to give them), engage them with my compassion and empathy (and compassionate humor, when appropriate), and listen fully. Usually a pause will come where my client invites my reply. At that point the circumstances will tell me how much of my lawyer hat to wear when replying.

Some of my clients do not know where to turn other than me in discussing their feelings of disharmony over their cases. They may feel embarrassment or shame to burden their friends, family and loved ones about their cases. They know I have advised them not to discuss their criminal cases with anyone but me.

Fortunately, seeking psychological counseling is no longer stigmatized in society. As the great psychological professional Don Clarkson aptly puts it, friends and family can only deal with pieces of one’s psychological challenges. A good psychological professional can deal with the whole situation. The practice of law can be a healing art. Nevertheless, it is for psychological professionals, not lawyers, to deal with the whole psychological situation.

As much as I do not agree with the gender dichotomy of the title Men Are From Mars/Women Are From Venus, that book is a great reminder that sometimes it is best mainly to listen fully to my client, and at other times better to offer suggestions on the path to a better place.

For the listening part, I always am inspired by the story of the late Beopjeong Seunim who one day helped a woman in deep grief over her son’s recent death, by simply being fully present with her, mostly wordlessly, starting from the moment he poured her tea.

For the action part, I am inspired by Don Clarkson, who intuitively knows when it is time to move from listening towards action.

Deeply thanking and bowing to Beopjeong Seunim and Don Clarkson for inspiring me on this path.