Category: Professional responsibility

AdvocacyLaw school skills competitionsLegal educationLegal skillsMoot Court

Moot court judging—once more unto the breach

Moot court student leaders and faculty advisors are now registering for 2018-2019 competitions. One factor in choosing a competition is the quality of volunteer judges at the competition. As anyone passingly familiar with moot court knows, most of the moot court judging is done not by actual judges but by attorneys volunteering to play the role of judges. Moot court is a massive annual undertaking in legal education, with approximately 75 competitions listed on LSU’s catalog of moot court opportunities nationwide. If each competition uses 20 volunteers (a conservative estimate) and if each attorney judges at only one competition, that’s 1500 attorney volunteers annually. And that figure does not include the many internal competitions at various law schools also utilizing attorney volunteers. It also does not include the many volunteers at mock trial competitions, ADR, and other litigation-skills competitions. This post is relevant to those as well—it’s relevant to any skills competition that uses attorney volunteers to play a role during the competition, score the competition, and give feedback to law students.

These attorneys are crucial to making moot court broadly available so students can demonstrate and use their advocacy skills in a (simulated) high-stakes environment. These attorneys also have tremendous influence over the quality of competitors’ experience. The volunteer attorney judges must ask questions, evaluate answers and transitions, and give scores that determine which teams progress to the next rounds. The volunteer attorney judges also are often given the opportunity to address the competitors and share some brief commentary and advice. Moot court is “moot,” but advocating for a client before strangers, accepting feedback with aplomb, and firing up to “go again” in another competition round on short notice does help prepare students for high-stakes experiences in practice.

On all of the volunteer attorney judges’ objectives—educationally valuable questions, fair scoring, and wise feedback—their performance can vary widely. When they ask judge-like questions, score fairly, and give useful, constructive commentary, moot court succeeds. But when they badger or dominate a round, give superficial, inconsistent, or unfair scores, or share unhelpful or unnecessarily damaging comments to competitors, moot court fails.

After hearing positive and negative stories along these lines shared by other faculty advisors, I invited contributions about moot court judging. The questions contributors could choose from included the following ideas:

  • What are some of the best experiences you’ve had with attorney judges at moot court competitions?
  • What can attorneys do to prepare for judging to make it an excellent educational experience for students and helps the attorneys share uniquely valuable advice and feedback with students?
  • What are some of the worst experiences you’ve had with attorney judges at moot court competitions?
  • How do you distinguish between critical feedback and scores that are poor but fair, and inappropriate feedback and unfair scores?
  • What can competitions do to prepare their attorney judges and minimize bad experiences for students?
  • Have you ever pulled your law school out of a competition because of inappropriate judging or other problems with a competition?
  • How do you prepare students to handle any type of attorney feedback they may receive?
  • Some attorneys argue that harsh words and even harassment are part of legal culture, so moot court can help students by preparing them for that too. What are your thoughts on that stance?
  • When moot court is done right, what does it offer students and attorney judges who are willing to volunteer?

In response to the call, this compilation features three contributions: Patrick Long of Buffalo, Susie Salmon of Arizona, and Barbara Gotthelf of Rutgers. Thanks to each contributor.

PLONGBy Patrick Long 

Legal Analysis, Writing and Research Program Coordinator and Lecturer, and Director of Moot Courts, University at Buffalo School of Law

Q: What makes a good—and a bad—volunteer moot court judge?

We tend not to hear about the good experiences with judging. Few people talk to us as directors when arguments go well, judges are engaged, and there’s enough coffee. So as directors, no news is really good news. As a result, my most vivid experiences are all bad ones. I know: we need to be thankful for our volunteer judges. CLE is not much payment for the work a good judge does, and we simply could not do moot courts without their help. Nonetheless, there can be some real stinkers. The bad judges fall into two broad categories: lousy humans and lousy teachers.

In the lousy human camp are these judges:

  1. The judge who told a student with mild cerebral palsy and a slight stutter that “because of your speech impediment, litigation is probably not a great fit for you.”
  2. The judge who complimented an Asian-American student on how well she knew English.
  3. The judge who reads the bench brief for the first time when he arrives at the competition.
  4. Any judge who says “I know the dean …”

In the lousy teacher camp are those lawyers who have forgotten what it means to be a student, or to be responsible to educate students. They expect 2L’s and 3L’s to match their own (self-inflated) knowledge of law and procedure, and they expect problems that present near-actual legal issues and facts. These judges are incapable of inspiring students about the profession, or teaching them what they need to know. They also refuse to understand that those who write the problems need to find two issues, on interesting legal topics, that are not factually on point exactly with cases pending (because students will just download the briefs from Westlaw):

  1. The judge who disagreed with a student’s version of the facts because she had not read the record or the bench brief. Then castigated the student for the ridiculous problem “that could never happen in real life” after the student showed her the fact pattern. At lunch, she spent 20 minutes complaining to me about the idiot who wrote the problem, not aware that it was me. That evening, that’s team coach told me in all the years he had been coaching moot courts, he had never seen so lousy a judge, and he was convinced she intentionally tanked his team’s score because of her own failure to read the record.
  2. The judge who tells war stories about his own fabled career for 25 minutes in the feedback portion, ruining the entire day’s schedule, and ignoring the students entirely.

There are those rare angels, however, who really make me proud to be a lawyer:

  1. The judge who actually reads all the cases cited in the bench brief.
  2. The judge who tells you she enjoyed the problem.
  3. The judge who says for an extra round because you are thin on volunteers.
  4. The (actual sitting) judge who told the competitor who crashed and burned how poorly she did in her first argument in court, and how she thought about quitting the DA’s office.
  5. Your former student who comes back to judge, because she knows how much she learned from the experience, and because she knows it’s part of her duty as an attorney to give back to the profession.

These angels make it worthwhile, but they seem more and more rare these days.

 

salmon_susanBy Susie Salmon

Director of Legal Writing and Clinical Professor of Law, The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law

Q: Some attorneys argue that harsh words and even harassment are part of legal culture, so moot court can help students by preparing them for that too. What are your thoughts on that stance?

I think that attitude is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous. How do we create a culture of civility and respect in the legal profession if members of the profession model this type of incivility and disrespect (and frequently seem to be having so much fun doing it) at moot-court competitions? And, honestly, I’d give that justification more credence if the attorneys who misbehaved while in role then told the students in feedback that their misbehavior—while not unheard of in the profession—should nonetheless be unacceptable. I strongly favor moot-court judges who hold advocates to account, force advocates to use law and fact to support their arguments, chastise advocates for making false statements of misrepresentations, and prevent advocates from evading difficult questions.

But I do not support moot-court judges modeling unprofessional, uncivil, or disrespectful behavior just because some real-world judges and attorneys will behave poorly.

Should we sexually harass students during moot court just because Kozinski existed? Should we make bigoted statements because students might be subjected to such behavior in the real world? No. Of course not.

We prepare students for those unpleasant realities—without perpetuating them—by discussing real-world examples and how to handle them, not by modeling that poor behavior ourselves.

Q:  What can attorneys do to prepare for judging to make it an excellent educational experience for students and help the attorneys share uniquely valuable advice and feedback with students?

Nothing devalues the moot-court experience for the students like unprepared or underprepared attorney judges. Unprepared judges cannot accurately assess the substance of a student’s argument and thus will reward superficial polish and bluster over truly proficient persuasion. Read the bench memo thoroughly and make sure you understand the legal principles and crucial facts. If you have time, read some of the key cases. Discuss the law and facts with your fellow judges, if possible, and ask clarifying questions as necessary. If the problem presents an area of law with which you are entirely unfamiliar, consider browsing a treatise or two. Try as much as possible to prepare as you would if you actually had to decide the issue.

Q: What can competitions do to prepare their attorney judges and minimize bad experiences for students?

Competitions can help by making it as easy as possible for judges to be well prepared for argument. Look: I know it’s often hard to recruit judges, and there is only so much a competition can do to control what busy volunteers do to prepare.

But competitions can make it easier, more fun, and more convenient for judges to be prepared. Many competitions—including our internal competitions at Arizona Law—provide not only thorough, well-organized written bench memos and judging guidelines but also instructional videos that include an overview of the key legal and factual issues and some tips on judging and scoring.

With the proliferation of online education, most educational institutions have access to the technology that will help you make the material accessible to judges in a mode and at a time that’s most convenient for them. Explore whether the jurisdiction allows you to offer CLE credit to attorneys who review the prep materials (maybe even create a quiz to make sure people have digested the key information); attorneys always need CLE credit!

When you create the problem, resist making the legal issues so complex and convoluted that lawyers of ordinary intelligence will struggle to get up to speed; the students will work hard to understand those issues and develop sophisticated arguments, and few things are quite so demoralizing to a moot-court advocate as having an ill-prepared judge favor your opponent’s slick but flawed retort over your nuanced, thoughtful, accurate argument.

And I love it when competitions give coaches comment cards to make it easier to share feedback on the competition, including judging issues. I provide many more suggestions in my article, Reconstructing the Voice of Authority, which came out in Akron Law Review in fall of 2018, but those would be my top tips.

Gotthelf-Barbara-photoBy Barbara Gotthelf

Professor of Professional Practice of Law and Director of Externship Programs, Rutgers Law 

Q:  How do you prepare students for comments from moot court judges that focus on superficial issues?

I’ve stopped calling our program at Rutgers “Hunter Moot Court.” Instead, I call it “Hunter Appellate Advocacy” because I want it to be seen—by students, faculty, and guest judges — as an educationally focused simulation course rather than a public speaking contest.

Hunter Moot Court, named for the late Third Circuit Judge James Hunter III, is a year-long, five credit course in which students brief the case in the fall and argue it in the spring—more or less the way it happens in real life, which is the point. The course is designed to approximate actual practice as much as possible. That goal—making it as real as possible—governs how we approach the judging of the arguments.

This is what I tell my students. From their perspective as advocates, the purpose of oral argument is to persuade the court by narrowing the issues; answering the court’s questions, rebutting arguments; and explaining in simple, concrete terms, how and why they should win. From the court’s perspective, oral argument is a chance to clarify, to probe, to challenge, and to resolve any issues that stand in the way of reaching a decision.

I also tell my students this: None of this has much to do with their oratory prowess.

As Justice White once commented, judges view lawyers as resources, not as orators. As long as the lawyer can be heard and understood, I honestly don’t believe the court cares one bit whether the lawyer appears nervous or pauses to gather her thoughts.

Judges do care, and care a lot, if the lawyer is prepared; if she is respectful; and, most of all, if she answers the court’s questions, fully and directly. I tell my guest judges this as well, and I ask them to evaluate the arguments from the perspective of an actual judge hearing a real argument, focusing on what truly matters to someone who must render a decision in a real case involving real litigants.

And then I warn my students that no matter how well we try to prepare the lawyers who will judge their arguments, some of them are still likely to give feedback on things like inflection, use of verbal fillers, dramatic flair, and rhetorical wizardry.  Worse yet, I tell them that at least one student—probably a woman—will be told to smile more, and another—probably a man—will be told to “come out swinging” on rebuttal. This is the cyclical curse of moot court. As law students, these are the criteria many of us were judged by, especially those of us who went to law school before much thought was given to what “practice ready” means.

The lawyer/judges don’t always get this. But the students do. By the time we get to the argument phase in March, they have lived and breathed the case for six months, and frankly they don’t want to be told to smile more. Because we’ve discussed this, they are able to filter out the superficial comments and focus on the substantive feedback.  This is one of many reasons I always invite Hunter alums to judge the arguments.

__

Thanks again to the guest contributors above. For more information on moot court judging, see Barbara Kritchevsky’s law-review article Judging: The Missing Piece of the Moot Court Puzzle, reprinted in the Legal Writing Institute’s Monograph Series, Volume Six on Moot Court and Oral Advocacy. (Full disclosure: I was editor-in-chief of that volume.)

And good luck to every student competing in moot court and other skills competitions this year. You are making yourselves into stronger and more skillful future lawyers by all your work!

 

Employment Issues in the Legal WorkplaceJudicial clerksJudicial listeningProfessional responsibility

Confronting Judicial Harassment

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary is holding a hearing now: “Confronting Sexual Harassment and Other Workplace Misconduct in the Federal Judiciary.” The live feed is here Senator Richard Blumenthal is talking now about why federal judges who commit sexual harassment can retire, avoid formal censure, and continue to collect full pay. He also stated that he clerked for Justice Blackmun, who would find harassment in the judiciary to be atrocious.

Witnesses at the hearing are James Duff, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; Jaime Santos, an associate at Goodwin Procter and former federal law clerk; and Jenny Yang, former federal law clerk and former chair of the U.S. EEOC. Ms. Santos’s written testimony begins in substance as follows, previewing the basic difficulty law clerks encounter when dealing with harassment:

Judicial chambers are unlike any other type of working environment. Individuals lucky enough to be hired to work with judges are typically law students, for whom judges are more demigods than they are employers. Judges are titans of the profession who have shaped the law as we know it. A law clerk enters a clerkship with the belief that her judge will challenge her to become a better thinker, be a lifelong mentor, and set an example that she can follow for her entire career. When a law clerk experiences or witnesses harassment, it can be devastating on a personal and professional level. And it is incredibly difficult to speak up against someone who has the unmatched power of a life-tenured federal judge.

Judge Alex Kozinski’s former law clerk Heidi Bond, who writes as Courtney Milan, wrote about her experience here and is live-tweeting the hearing. Her letter about what could help prevent its recurrence was entered into the record by Senator Grassley.

(Note after the hearing: The recording remains available at the link, with hearing statements beginning at approximately minute 15:30.)

Client relationshipsCross-cultural communicationEmotional intelligenceGenderLegal communication

Kairos in 2017

Killing time has never been easier, with smartphone settings that feed constant data and the average smartphone user checking it 85 times a day. But what exactly is being killed? How do we describe these moments lost?

One of the first books I read for this blog introduced me to the concepts of chronos and kairos timing. The book was Talk and Social Theory: Ecologies of Speaking and Listening in Everyday Life by Frederick Erickson. Yes, it is an academic work, but with some charmingly concrete moments. Anyone who’s seen a gunner in a law-school classroom will understand a term coined by the conversational turn-taking analysts: “turn shark.”

Erickson also explored the concept of chronos and kairos timing in communication study. Chronos (or kronos) is basically clock or calendar time. Chronos time is measured in equal bits and sequenced perfectly and inexorably one after the other. In contrast kairos timing is about “the opportune time” or “the moment of opportunity.”

Kairos is important to conversation study because mutual timing is what allows people to make sense together in conversations. Kairos moments in conversations are those where the conversation shifts, someone begins to contribute, a person speaking notices someone else shifting their gaze and notices the need for a conversation pause, and so on. Because conversations aren’t defined by automated turn-taking and timed exchanges, communications scholars find multiple kairos moments in conversational analysis:

Kairos is the time of tactical appropriateness, of shifting priorities and objects of attention from one qualitatitvely differing moment to the next….It is a brief strip of right time, marked at its beginning and ending by turning points.

Or, more poetically:

In kairos time there are kinds of time that are apples and others that are oranges. There is a time when rain will fall from a cloud, a time to attack the enemy in battle, a time to negotiate a truce, a point that is qualitatively different in time from the time in kronos just before.

Kairos can be a blessing or a weapon, according to Erickson, who summarizes meticulous moment-by-moment studies of various conversational settings, finding kairos moments of opportunity and of subtle and not-so-subtle power exchanges. A teacher tries to manage a group of students where a shy student continually loses her turn to a “turn shark” who incessantly interrupts. A medical intern and senior supervisor talk about an overdosed patient, with the supervisor offers a smile while implying the intern (who is African-American) might know something about buying illegal drugs. Using “hyperformality,” the intern refocuses the conversation with clinical language about the patient. These conversational studies were done years ago in the era of gas shortages and the Vietnam draft, but connections to today’s topics of gender-based “manterruptions,” cultural competenceimplicit bias, and microaggressions cannot be missed.

And for those kairos moments that are not a weapon but a potential blessing, the fact is they can be squandered. In Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle details the effects of smartphones on in-person conversations:

The mere presence of a phone signals that your attention is divided, even if you don’t intend it to be. It will limit the conversation in many ways: how you’ll listen, what will be discussed, the degree of connection you’ll feel.

Urban Dictionary now includes a definition of the common, meme-friendly phrase “Wait, what?”:

“[a] phrase used to back the conversation up when you realize you weren’t listening.”

(See Resolve to Use Your Device as a Tool—and to Resist Being Tooled by It, Jack Pringle’s guest post here last week.)

Kairos is a useful idea not just for individual conversations, but also for effective storytelling and understanding broader social situations. In his book Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates, legal writing expert Ross Guberman implicitly criticizes chronos timing as a storytelling method:

Few things are duller than a paragraph stuffed with dates.

Instead, he shares a variety of techniques for connecting factual details into a series of meaningful moments. Although not using the terms chronos and kairos, Guberman shows how to play upon a reader’s conception of kairos, in the sense of “the right moment.” His examples show how a fact statement can suggest that certain events happened too slowly or too quickly—or that they shouldn’t have happened at all.

Explicitly applying the kairos idea to advocacy and litigation strategy, Professor Linda Berger explored kairos in Creating Kairos at the Supreme Court: Shelby County, Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, and the Judicial Construction of Right Moments. Berger uses her deep knowledge of rhetorical theory to provide context:

Through their use of two words for time, chronos and kairos, the Greeks were able to view history as a grid of connected events spread across a landscape punctuated by hills and valleys. In chronos, the timekeeper-observer constructs a linear, measurable, quantitative accounting of what happened. In kairos, the participant-teller forms a more qualitative history by shaping individual moments into crises and turning points. From a rhetorical perspective, chronos is more closely allied with the narrative accounting for—how long? what next?—while kairos is the more metaphorical imagining as—at what point? in what space?

The end of any year is an opportunity to make a kairos moment—and the end of this particular year brings to mind thoughts of a crisis or turning point. Berger shows that kairos moments are not passively experienced as one watches a ticking stopwatch measuring off equal seconds and minutes. Kairos moments are sensed and recognized, but they are also shaped. In rhetorical terms, Berger tells us, “kairos presumes that the author will intervene in history’s causal chain.”

So it’s the end of a year. It’s the end of 2016 specifically. It’s a moment of kairos time, or at least it could be—personally, professionally, socially, politically. For 2017, I propose a resolution: let’s not kill time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Client developmentClient relationshipsEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborGender

Love your lawyer (part 2): Emotional labor of lawyers

Love Your Lawyer Day prompted the question: what makes clients love their lawyers? Client satisfaction is one way to gauge clients’ love. As addressed in an earlier post, client satisfaction depends on the lawyer’s competence and expertise. But client satisfaction is also intertwined with how the client experiences the process.

The client’s desire for a satisfying experience raises an aspect of lawyering that deserves more attention: emotional labor. Emotional labor is a common practice across service professions and “requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others.” Emotional labor generally occurs in personal interactions such as face-to-face or voice-to-voice moments. The person doing the labor displays emotion to influence the client or customer, and that display of emotion follows the rules of the profession. (The source here is Sofia Yakren’s article Lawyer as Emotional Laborer in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, which is this post’s major source along with Joy Kadowaki’s Maintaining Professionalism: Emotional Labor Among Lawyers as Client Advisors in the International Journal of the Legal Profession.)

The concept of emotional labor was originally formulated and studied by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, who focused on flight attendants in the early 1980s. Emotional labor has been in the news with the rise of Uber and other on-demand service where customer ratings mean a lot. As reported in the Harvard Business Review Blog, “on-demand workers end up performing outsize amounts of what sociologists call ‘emotional labor,’ or expressive work to make the customer experience a positive one so that users come back to the platform.”

Lawyers may not use platforms like Uber apps (not much yet anyway), but Yelp ratings are important and sometimes problematic for many. And whether a lawyer gets clients from Yelp or a casual conversation at the Yale Club, lawyers do perform emotional labor. A common theme of all emotional-labor literature is the tools workers use for performing it:

  • deep acting
  • surface acting
  • detachment

Deep acting means trying to make yourself experience the emotions you are displaying. Surface acting means using techniques to fake emotions. (This can be done in good faith to help the client, or in bad faith as a sort of cover-up.) And, as Joy Kadowski found in surveying consumer-oriented lawyers, detachment means dealing with repugnant clients by “taking emotion entirely out of the interaction with the client, reducing the relationship to one that is ‘strictly business.’”

The emotional-labor literature does not paint a particularly optimistic picture. When professionals genuinely change their feelings or align them with their actions in deep acting, the costs of emotional labor go down. But surface acting and detachment are associated with emotional dissonance, which leads to a host of problems from addiction to depression to general alienation.

Another question is, who is emotional labor for, anyway? If the focus of emotional labor is on creating a comfortable emotional state in the client, then perhaps it’s for the benefit of the client. Emotional labor to keep the client as comfortable with the legal process as possible under the circumstances could indeed help clients love their lawyers.

But emotional labor also follows predictable rules defined by the profession, and part of what professionalism does is to “convince, cajole and persuade employees, practitioners, and other workers to perform and behave in ways which the organization or the institution deem to be appropriate, effective, and efficient.” (This is Kadowaki quoting sociologist Julia Evetts.) The sociologists coined the term “feeling rules.” And feeling rules are not just for the benefit of the client in the relationship; as Kadowaki points out, “In some cases [emotional labor] is done for the benefit of the attorney-client relationship, but at other times emotional labor is used to protect the emotional state of the attorney, and thus his or her performance of professionalism.”

What can be done to minimize the consequences of dissonance for lawyers while preserving what clients need? Dismissive attitudes might say the profession should self-select: if practicing law is so dissonant and painful, then don’t do it. But that’s not a very good answer, as Yakren points out: “Do we want to eliminate healthy self-doubt as a check on professional conduct?” No. Moreover, “constructing a profession comprised of a particular type of thinker could stifle creative solutions to complex problems.” (And thus it could make clients individually and collectively not love their lawyers even more than they already don’t love them.)

Solutions Yakren poses include expl0ring and teaching lawyers more about deep acting (which helps clients just as much if not more than surface acting and detachment, and emotionally costs less for the lawyer doing it); encouraging more autonomy for lawyers to exercise their consciences; and critiquing formalistic notions of professionalism and ethics to recognize the importance of context. Similarly Kadowaki points out that professionalism is far more complex and interconnected than any formalistic system can account for: “While the lawyers [interviewed in her study] defined professionalism as requiring the suppression of emotion, their description of their actual practice detailed significant emotional labor efforts and a much more nuanced negotiation of emotional expression.”

Sources:

Joy Kadowaki, Maintaining Professionalism: Emotional Labor Among Lawyers as Client Advisors in the International Journal of the Legal Profession (2015), http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09695958.2015.1071257

Sofia Yakren, Lawyer as Emotional Laborer, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform (2008), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2602520

Dan Defoe, Emotional Intelligence and Selecting Personnel Lawyers for High Emotional Labor Jobs, Psycholawlogy, July 15, 2016, http://www.psycholawlogy.com/2016/07/15/emotional-intelligence-and-selecting-personnel-lawyers-for-high-emotional-labor-jobs/

 

Emotional intelligenceLegal communicationPeople skillsProfessional developmentProfessional responsibility

Talking means making mistakes (and that’s okay)

Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age has been on my reading list for a while now. I’m in the process of reading it and was stopped cold by something on page 54. Turkle is talking about “the flight from conversation.” The flight from conversation basically means kids these days—and yes, their parents too—don’t want to talk and will take active steps to avoid conversation.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/barry_b/143928531/in/photolist-dHEWp-fwfo9x-8eJS1L-cnr4r5-8eJV6J-8eFzux-aUbvWF-aUbviF-6BVufY-8eJZfS-8eFzdR-8eJUHQ-8eJUnQ-8eJYU9-8eJWc1-6Q3UVm-8eFyDk-aKPi8T-8eJXRU-8eFDq6-pR8z8t-8eJYcq-8eJTmN-8eJVHw-8eFCjV-8eFAEr-8eJU4y-8f54q4-8quZL3-8KdXtG-d5nAa3-geUjn4-DdJibk-4z1Yux-8YEJTM-bsC179-eYbj32-4PpL7E-6ebNVp-nCDLcE-dYT8p3-62dKpd-58hFYL-bUZK3m-9Zjt3J-nKVQU7-hfoTV3-dLnekA-9PAWD7-bNQjUp

I’m in the process of reading it and was stopped cold by something on page 54, a reference to a law student in the making.

This is a pretty big book, and in the first section  (which includes page 54) she goes to lengths to lay out her basic premise about “the flight from conversation.” This flight affects every facet of life and goes down very deep in the psyche. The most worrisome suggestion is that an intense digital life (at the expense of a social life) doesn’t just make people inefficient or unempathetic at that moment, but it actually stunts emotional growth.Turkle describes the work of Stanford psychologist Clifford Nass showing that spending too much time with social media and its “thumbs-up” emotional culture deprives frequent users of the ability to process more complex negative emotions. These people then become even less able to respond appropriately and quickly in real-life situations involving negative emotions. This diminishing skill set creates a downward cycle driving people to avoid difficult face-to-face situations and to seek out comfortable digital forms of communications.

Page 54 is part of this background. It caught my eye because it featured an aspiring law student. Turkle frames this anecdote as “[t]he desire for the edited life”:

A college senior doesn’t go to his professors’ office hours. He will correspond with his teachers only through email. The student explains that if he sees his professors in person, he could get something “wrong.” Ever since ninth grade, when his preparations to go to an Ivy League college began in earnest, he and his parents have worked on his getting everything “right.” .  . . Now he is three years through that Ivy education and hoping for law school. He is still trying to get things right. “When you talk in person,” he says, “you are likely to make a slip.”

He thinks his no-office-hours policy is a reasonable strategy. He tells me that our culture has “zero tolerance” for making mistakes. If politicians make “slips,” it haunts them throughout their careers. And usually they make these mistakes while they are talking. He says, “I feel as though everyone in my generation wants to write things out—I certainly do—because then I can check it over and make sure it is okay. I don’t want to say a wrong thing.”

I really wish I could reach out to this student. If he’s in law school now and if his first-year professors have used the Socratic method in any way, shape, or form, he has probably had a pretty rough transition. And whether he’s in law school or not, somehow he’s going to have to face a terrible realization: conflict and imperfection and mistakes and regret are

And whether he’s in law school or not, somehow and sometime he’s going to have to face a terrible realization: conflict and imperfection and mistakes and regret are all a reality, for all of us. You can run but you can’t hide. So he might as well build some strength now, ideally with a matching dose of empathy and humility, to deal with them as best he can.

I would also introduce him to the concept of a “growth mindset” as popularized by Carol Dweck of Stanford. A growth mindset is consistent with effort, mistakes, learning, and forward progress. What you are at the beginning of college/law school/a new job/anything is not your destiny.

The opposite is a fixed mindset, which is the concept your skills can be uncovered and revealed by testing but not truly built up or changed. The fixed mindset has a lot of disadvantages. One of them is a possible correlation with unethical conduct. A person’s desire to conceal a mistake might make that person dangerous. Being terrified about making a “slip” can lead to covering up mistakes, not seeking help, and in general turning potentially small problems into much worse.

This is just one reflection on the wealth of points in Turkle’s book. I’m still reading it! Throughout the summer I will be blogging about passages of interest, and perhaps even trying a Twitter chat at some point.

Read Jonathan Franzen’s New York Times review of Reclaiming Conversation here.

 

 

 

Emotional intelligenceLeadershipPeople skillsProfessional developmentProfessional responsibility

The Good Lawyer

levitlinder

“What does it mean to be a good lawyer?” Thus begins The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law by Douglas O. Linder & Nancy Levit (Oxford 2014). The introduction assures readers there will not be chapters such as “The Good Lawyer Uses Proper Citation Format.” (Why not? asks the legal writing professor.)

Instead, The Good Lawyer explores empathy, courage, willpower, valuing others in the legal community, intuition as well as deliberation, realistic thinking, the pursuit of justice, integrity, and persuasion. Its final chapter addresses the difficulty of all of these in the current legal climate. 

The book is largely aspirational but delves into skills and techniques. Its first chapter—”The Good Lawyer Is Empathetic”—would be valuable to any lawyer who wants to be a better listener.

Empathy has been defined as “our ability to identify what somebody else is thinking or feeling and to respond to their thoughts or feelings with an appropriate emotion.”

And what are the actual benefits of a lawyer’s being empathetic?

First, empathy enables you to acknowledge and respect other people’s thoughts, so they feel valued. Second, empathy substantially reduces the likelihood of miscommunications that can lead to wasted effort and counterproductive results. Third, as you become more aware of other people’s feelings, you more readily assess their feelings toward you and can make adjustments to smooth things over when necessary.* . . . Fourth, having walked inside another’s skin, you’ll be better able to compellingly tell that person’s story, should the time and place arise for it.

*The omitted portion of the quote says this: “When others think you’re being a jerk, at least you know it soon enough to stop your jerk-like behavior and apologize.”

I am well aware of the sentiment that being a jerk is necessary or even desirable at times, as a way of serving a client’s interests. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that’s not the agenda of Linder and Levit. In their chapter on serving the true interests of clients, they walk through various roles a lawyer may serve: helping the client win; being a “mere tool” of the client’s autonomy; or essentially telling the client what to do based on the lawyer’s legal expertise.

Their recommended approach is none of these in isolation. Instead they embrace more of a collaborative deliberation: “The most demanding and also the most rewarding function that lawyers perform is to help their clients decide what it is that they really want, to help them make up their minds as to what their ends should be” (quoting Anthony Kronman). Linder and Levit acknowledge that “many forces today conspire to limit opportunities for lawyers and clients to enter into deep moral conversations, as friends might do.”

They go on to discuss specific communication techniques to help lawyers learn more about their clients’ interests in meaningful conversations. For example lawyers can frame conversations in terms of “we” (i.e. the lawyer and client together). Lawyers can ask clients who else would be affected by various approaches, and how those others might respond. 

These suggested techniques are valuable, yet perhaps meager given what it takes to forge a truly collaborative relationship and be someone’s friend in a moral sense. On this point and others, the book was (lightly) critiqued by David Lat in the Wall Street Journal as being better at issue-spotting than at deeply diving into practical solutions. 

The issues to be spotted include a number of tough questions. For example, are empathetic lawyers born, or can they be made? Linder and Levit review psychological literature showing that empathy can be taught in the sense that people can get better at recognizing emotions. The evidence is weaker for the teachability of the empathetic response. A checklist on “How to Make the Most of Your Empathy” (page 17) would be a good primer for new lawyers, or for more experienced lawyers who want to work on making a better connection with clients. The book also cites the scholarship of Kristin Gerdy and Ian Gallacher on incorporating empathy into legal education and teaching students how to “think like a non-lawyer.”

Another tough issue both individually and socially is whether empathy can  actually be harmful. Highly empathetic people may burn out and run from extremely painful situations, or may cross ethical boundaries to help those with whom they empathize. (In raising the topic of whether judges should be empathetic, the book cites Justice Blackmun’s “Poor Joshua!” dissent, recently in the news again after the death of Joshua DeShaney at age 36.)

The chapter on persuasion features the book’s most specific treatment of listening and lawyering:

Listening and interpreting body language, two skills that allow us to understand—and then better influence—the thinking and emotion of others, receive nothing like the attention each deserves. Only by listening to a client can a lawyer understand what the client wants and develop a theme for a story that might help the client her goal, and listening carefully to a judge’s questions or remarks is essential to the process of addressing any concerns the judge might have with your argument. People, of course, send signals with their bodies, not just with their words, and being attentive to the body language of clients, witnesses, jurors, and judges also can be critical to a lawyer’s success. Sometimes lawyers are so focused on covering each of twenty points on the outline of an argument that they don’t see the judge or juror stifling a yawn, raising eyebrows, or crossing arms; these are all signs that the lawyers are going seriously off track and need to change course. Defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey, describing the work of another lawyer he admired, said that he kept his eyes “ever on his audience.” Bailey continued, “The slightest quizzical brow, a mere change of impression of a single juror, these would be a sign from which he could shift and bear down on a point, paraphrase it if he thought the first shot hadn’t got through, or shift his topic if he thought attention was starting to drift.”

There is no chapter titled “The Good Lawyer Listens.” Yet The Good Lawyer advocates that the good lawyer does listen. Listening helps lawyers understand clients and make them feel valued. If that’s not enough, listening also helps lawyers figure out what to say.

LeadershipLegal skillsPeople skillsProfessional developmentProfessional responsibility

Where competence and character come together

The nice thing about Twitter is you can learn from events you can’t actually attend. Today Stephen M.R. Covey (son of the 7 Habits guy) spoke at the “DEXIO” conference in Canada: Developing Excellence in Others. This slide from Covey’s talk caught my eye:

(HT to @ITCatherine for the slide.)

Covey’s list of 13 leadership behaviors wasn’t specifically aimed at lawyers as leaders, but it might as well have been. The behaviors were organized into three major categories — competence, character, and the convergence of the two.

Competence was an interesting category and one that will feel good to many lawyers because we are generally very smart and good at the tasks of lawyering. But being competent isn’t enough to succeed in a collaborative work environment. UC-Hastings Dean Frank Wu wrote about this in his Huffington Post column on Why Law Firms Fail. Likewise, while character is essential, it’s also not enough by itself to make a good lawyer.

The convergence category was the payoff of this slide. While competence and character are obviously indispensable to the work of a legal professional, each on its own is not enough. On the slide, Covey lists three behaviors where competence and character come together:

  • listening first
  • keeping commitments
  • extending trust

Obviously I was excited to see listening on that list. Good listeners are highly competent, and good listeners also show great character. Or we could state the opposite: Poor listening can lead to incompetence, such as by not being able to get results because crucial facts or motives were not perceived. (Ouch.) And poor listening may be perceived as disrespectful and therefore a sign of poor character. (Double ouch.)

But the deeper point here is about what it means to be a “high-trust leader” (the title of Covey’s slide) and to develop excellence in others (the theme of the conference). For lawyers responsible for developing excellence in others, what behaviors do they use to do so? Some may take a bit of a muscular attitude toward developing excellence: “I’m going to model it and you can watch and learn.”

Or a senior lawyer may effectively “teach” excellent swimming by throwing juniors into the pool. This approach was apparent in a training video from Hogan Lovells shown at the 2016 American Association of Law Schools’ Annual meeting (video at minutes 8:30-16:10) :

In that video, a senior lawyer was faced with a potential conflict over work allocation among two juniors on his team. To get excellence from this team, he was going to have to go beyond being a good lawyer and nice guy. His response to the conflict? Something along the lines of: “They’re adults; they’re going to have to work this out. I don’t have time for it.” So this guy was clearly not what Hogan Lovells was offering up as a great example of leadership. Maybe he could have used a little more listening, a little more trust-building. He seemed like a good lawyer — very competent and unassailable character. But something was lacking in the way he approached the situation. Maybe it was those behaviors at the intersection of competence and character.

Writing this post made me want to read Deborah Rhode’s book Lawyers as Leaders. For those who have, what would Rhode say about the behavioral categories in Covey’s slide above? How would she approach the hands-off lawyer attempting to lead a team in the Hogan Lovells video?

Thanks to Jennifer Kahnweiler for correcting an earlier version that misidentified Stephen M.R. Covey as his father, Stephen Covey.

EthicsFact investigationLaw schoolLegal communicationLegal education

Core professional qualities of lawyers

About a thousand law professors are gathering now at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Schools. The first session I attended this morning was Incorporating Teaching Professional Identity into the Legal Education Curriculum, with speakers from Mercer Law School and the University of North Dakota School of Law. Both schools offer innovative courses in building a professional identity as a lawyer.

The new program on professional identity at North Dakota emphasizes twelve core professional qualities, which I quote here from their handout:

  • Adaptability/Deals with Unpredictability
  • Confronts Mistakes
  • Courage
  • Diligence/Reliability
  • Empathy/Compassion
  • Generosity/Public-Mindedness
  • Honesty
  • Humility/Respectfulness/Courtesy
  • Integrity Under Pressure
  • Loyalty
  • Patience/Perseverance/Resilience
  • Professional Objectivity/Sympathetic Detachment

I really love this list and wanted to focus the rest of this post on how listening relates to these core qualities. Interestingly, the list does not include anything about “communicates effectively.” I think the point is to talk about the essential character of the lawyer, which is separate and broader than the lawyer’s discrete skills like communicating effectively. The lawyer’s core qualities are broader and more significant than any one skill; they drive the lawyer’s individual actions and deployment of skills in many ways.

Here are my quick thoughts on highlights of the list in relation to listening.

Adaptability and Dealing with Unpredictability

To be able to adapt, the lawyer has to listen. This is easier at the beginning of a project, when the lawyer is beginning to create the narrative of the case or the strategic approach. It’s harder when the client and/or lawyer already have a narrative or strategy in mind. The best lawyers can hear explicit or implicit dissonance with their chosen narrative, and then assess the risk to that narrative.

Listening also helps with unpredictability, I think in the sense of asking questions and listening to the answer. Open-ended questions may tease out that unpredictability and let a lawyer prepare for it. Closed questions that lead the conversation in a certain way may mask unpredictable facts or preferences, setting up nasty surprises later.

Courage

Lawyers have to deal with very difficult facts sometimes. The setting may be a courtroom where a witness recounts painful testimony or a law office where a client shares an uncomfortable truth or a mediation room where harsh words are exchanged or an icy test of wills becomes apparent. The lawyer has to have courage to face these situations and listen with professional body language and a problem-solving demeanor, even if that lawyer’s personal preference would be to go anywhere else in the world.

Diligence

To do a thorough job, the lawyer has to set up sufficient time for fact-investigation including, possibly, interviews. And the lawyer should use judgment to decide how to go about collecting facts, whether by e-mail or phone or face-to-face meetings.

Empathy/Compassion

Listening like a vacuum cleaner sucking up information is not, by itself, effective listening. The listener may be primarily interested in fact investigation and analysis, but listening with empathy will almost always be more professional (as a value) as well as more effective (as a skill).

Generosity

Giving time to listen is a form of generosity. Giving undivided attention during that time is more difficult and therefore more generous.

Humility/Respectfulness/Courtesy

Effective listening is all of these things. We’ve all witnessed situations with a bad listener who interrupts to ensure everyone gets the benefit of his or her “wisdom.” Interrupting is a little more complicated than that, though, because some forms of interruption show engagement with the conversation. Effective listening, like professional identity more broadly as discussed in this session, is complex and holistic and cannot be wholly addressed by a set of steps or distinct, invariable behavior rules.

Patience

At times, listening is hard. That’s partly because people speak more slowly than our brains want to process information. (A whole separate blog post or posts will cover this idea later. It’s a huge component of why really effective listening can be so hard.) Effective listeners may need to show explicit signs of patience, such as body language and encouraging responses. Effective listeners may also need to struggle with their own intrinsic impatience due to the differential between how fast they hear the information and how fast they are capable of processing information.

Perseverance

Many people have mentioned to me that the best listeners are able to hear what’s not said. That’s partly an intellectual skill. But perseverance helps–asking questions in different ways, listening with discernment to how a person says something, and defining the gap. That’s just one specific point where perseverance and listening intersect. Being able to withstand a 4-hour conference call is another form of perseverance.

Professional Objectivity and Sympathetic Detachment

Effective listening means limiting the influence of one’s preferences and biases. It means being empathetic while not becoming so wrapped up in the narrative that one’s objectivity is compromised. The lawyer’s role is a complex and difficult one, and the seeming paradox of “sympathetic detachment” is just one illustration of the fine line lawyers must walk.

Please feel free to use the comments for sharing more thoughts on listening and how it relates to the core qualities of lawyering.


Thanks again to Professors Patti Alleva and Michael McGinniss of the University of North Dakota and Professors Tim Floyd and Patrick Longan, and Dean Daisy Hurst Floyd of Mercer. I probably won’t be able to blog in this depth again during the conference but will try to at least tweet further thoughts of interest on listening. Listen Like a Lawyer’s Twitter feed can be seen here on the blog on the right-hand panel.

Law practiceLegal communicationPeople skillsProfessional responsibility

Lawyers and hearing loss

Hearing is necessary for effective listening. Thus, hearing loss is a critical issue for professions that require listening, such as lawyering. In her frank and informative book, Shouting Won’t Help: Why I–and 50 Million Other Americans–Can’t Hear You, former newspaper editor Katherine Bouton describes her struggle with hearing loss while trying to do a job comparable in many ways to lawyering.

ImageAs her hearing was declining—always in conjunction with personal stress such as her father’s death—Bouton was faced with boisterous editorial meetings and intense individual conversations. She tried to hide her deteriorating hearing for many years but ultimately began to accept help via hearing aids and other technology. Bouton tells her story in such an honest way; I can’t recommend this book enough. For further praise of the book, see Seth Horowitz’s New York Times review.

Hearing loss is far more common than many would expect. An estimated 48 million Americans experience some degree of hearing loss (about 17 percent of the population). “Nearly one in five people, across all age groups, has trouble understanding speech, and many cannot hear certain sounds at all,” Bouton writes, citing Johns Hopkins researcher Dr. Frank Lin. With approximately 1 million American lawyers in practice, the same math suggests that more than 170,000 lawyers are facing some degree of hearing loss.

Yet hearing loss is “an invisible disability”: “There’s no white cane to signal a problem, no crutches, . . . no bandages or braces,” Bouton writes. The lack of outward signals can mask various efforts to compensate. “Most hearing-impaired people quickly learn to nod or smile or respond in a noncommittal way, taking their signal from the speaker and the people around them.” These forms of compensation are imperfect at best, as Bouton acknowledges: “I lose the train of the discussion and ask a question that was just answered. I think we’re talking about one thing when we’re talking about something completely different.” And over time, the accumulation of awkwardness can lead to isolation and withdrawal. Bouton describes how she maintains her social lifelines, yet she also decided long ago not to participate in group conversations except with her closest friends.

Shouting Won’t Help is both a personal narrative and a treatise on hearing impairment. Bouton traces her own diminished hearing and environmental aggravators—primarily, noise. She acknowledges her fear of the conditions associated with hearing loss such as depression, heart disease, insomnia, and dementia. As to dementia, the correlation maybe a side effect of social isolation or cognitive overload, or there may be a common pathology—which, to Bouton and anyone facing hearing loss, is “deeply distressing.”

Bouton’s work is a particularly helpful read for lawyers because her work as a senior editor at the New York Times had a lot in common with lawyering. She struggled in phone conversations, editorial meetings where people talked over one another, and group lunches in noisy restaurants. She missed a lot in large public events such as the Broadway plays she was assigned to cover. “I communicated with my writers as much as possible either face-to-face, where I could read their lips, or by e-mail. I e-mailed people who were ten feet away. But there were a couple of writers who wanted to talk—by phone. Often these calls would go on for a half hour or forty minutes, with me catching just as much as I needed to murmur occasionally ‘That sounds good,’ ‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ or ‘Well, just get it to me as soon as you can.'”

As Bouton came to terms with her impairment and need for hearing aids, she began talking to some trusted former colleagues. They had noticed behaviors that could describe lawyers’ attempt to compensate as well. As one friend and colleague remarked, “’I did notice that you often held back at meetings, and didn’t necessarily engage in conversational back-and-forth after you’d given your own assessment of a piece. . . . I recognized a certain reticence in your approach to the job. I could see from your reading of our knottier science stories that your analytical gifts were considerable, and yet I sensed a reluctance to use them fully in face-to-face interactions. I attributed this reticence to temperament, or to a discomfort with the management of the magazine, or to . . . a waning of interest in the workaday routines of journalism after years in the trenches.’”

As her hearing loss became more severe, Bouton was forced to accept the loss and seek help. Her book describes many methods for addressing hearing loss, from hearing aids and cochlear implants to phone amplifiers, caption technology, and special alarm clocks that mimic the sun at dawn. Technology called hearing loops can help with otherwise incomprehensible noise in public spaces such as museums and ticket loops. Bouton worked intensively with doctors and audiologists, using virtually every technology available. Yet she also experienced rough transition with some of her hearing aids and a missed opportunity to fully adjust to the cochlear implant.

Despite aversion to being a “joiner,” she also joined the Hearing Loss Association and attended meetings, where she met new people and kept up with new technology. Although her adjustments were time-consuming and results imperfect at time, Bouton concludes the book with gratitude—both for the many advances making now a “good time to be deaf” and, on an individual level, for the “freedom of coming clean” and not having to “fake it” anymore.

Next week Listen Like a Lawyer will feature interviews with lawyers who have faced and adjusted to hearing impairment in their life and work. Please share your thoughts below or contact me at jromig@emory.edu if you would like to share your experience with hearing loss.

EthicsLegal communicationPeople skillsProfessional responsibility

Is It Ever Okay Not to Listen to Your Client?

Listening to clients seems like mostly an affirmative duty, if only an implied one. But in writing about lawyers’ duty *not* to listen to represented parties, I began to wonder about the limits of a lawyer’s duty to listen to clients as well:

  • Can a lawyer ever choose not to hear what the client has to say?

  • Can a lawyer be present with a client and let the client talk out loud, but choose not to really listen to or process what the client is saying?

  • Can the lawyer listen to what the client is saying but choose not to act on it? Does the lawyer ever have a duty not to act on what the client says?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/angelic0devil6/467237778/in/photolist-HhHvL-HGdT8-Riwce-Riwnp-RiwwR-2Tf2ed-34AQow-3aLY5v-3d48zj-45vDqy-49UDFf-4kujXq-4yChDW-4yCimf-4GKihK-4KWatE-4Yzb7n-51vNQx-57ZZjx-5iA8jF-5jFfnA-5u9Vwq-5zmMme-5GsSdf-5Kbm9E-5KjKV1-5L8qsz-5PaU1k-62TLyt-65VcvS-6bWW22-6fSY7K-6fXb7y-6vzTE4-6HFaMq-6KtFRn-6KxS9C-6MjYsu-6RkPgi-6RrhfC-6S5yDN-6WF4tA-6YAGUb-7cXT8E-7gbajM-7ig31K-7mfaBM-7qPVQn-grUpc1-8dEHHe-dfAgkY/

L. Whittaker/Flickr

The main area where a lawyer might have the ethical discretion not to listen to a client, is in dealing with clients who have diminished capacity. Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.14 sets out a lawyer’s obligations and options in representing clients with diminished capacity:

(a) When a client’s capacity to make adequately considered decisions in connection with a representation is diminished, whether because of minority, mental impairment or for some other reason, the lawyer shall, as far as reasonably possible, maintain a normal client-lawyer relationship with the client.

(b) When the lawyer reasonably believes that the client has diminished capacity, is at risk of substantial physical, financial or other harm unless action is taken and cannot adequately act in the client’s own interest, the lawyer may take reasonably necessary protective action, including consulting with individuals or entities that have the ability to take action to protect the client and, in appropriate cases, seeking the appointment of a guardian ad litem, conservator or guardian.

(c) Information relating to the representation of a client with diminished capacity is protected by Rule 1.6. When taking protective action pursuant to paragraph (b), the lawyer is impliedly authorized under Rule 1.6(a) to reveal information about the client, but only to the extent reasonably necessary to protect the client’s interests.

As the language shows, the rule has several guiding principles:

  • preserving a lawyer-client relationship that is as close as possible to a relationship not involving diminished capacity
  • allowing the lawyer to seek help from third parties when necessary
  • not allowing the lawyer to substitute his or her judgment for the best interest of the client, as Elizabeth Laffitte points out in her article Model Rule 1.14: The Well-intended Rule Still Leaves Some Questions Unanswered (LexisNexis).

Echoing and developing Rule 1.14(a)’s requirement of a normal client-lawyer relationship, comment 2 specifically focuses maintaining communications:

The fact that a client suffers a disability does not diminish the lawyer’s obligation to treat the client with attention and respect. Even if the person has a legal representative, the lawyer should as far as possible accord the represented person the status of client, particularly in maintaining communication.

The rule is thus quite clear that the lawyer has the same ethical duty to listen to the client as applies to clients without diminished capacity. The question then becomes how to carry out this duty for a client with diminished capacity.

Choosing not to hear

For example, what if a client has sporadically compromised mental statestimes when the lawyer can barely follow, much less understand, what the client is saying? Can the lawyer treat the client with attention and respect while also effectively choosing not to hear what the client has to say?

Good lawyers recognize and accommodate these peaks and valleys in clients’ abilities to communicate.

519519_1281451903     “Many times, a client may have diminished capacity, but still be pretty lucid at certain times during the day,” notes attorney Adrienne Ashby of the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline, a project of Atlanta Legal Aid and other Georgia agencies.

Comment 6 to Model Rule 1.14 explicitly instructs lawyers to take into account their clients’ “variability of state of mind” as well as their known long-term goals:

 In determining the extent of the client’s diminished capacity, the lawyer should consider and balance such factors as: the client’s ability to articulate reasoning leading to a decision, variability of state of mind and ability to appreciate consequences of a decision; the substantive fairness of a decision; and the consistency of a decision with the known long-term commitments and values of the client. In appropriate circumstances, the lawyer may seek guidance from an appropriate diagnostician.

Thus, once it becomes clear a client is in a temporarily compromised state of mind, a lawyer could indeed choose neither to hear nor listen to a client. Ashby suggests that “[a]n attorney would do well to try to communicate with the client during the lucid times, so as to try to ensure that what she hears from the client is something that she can act upon.”

Choosing not to listen to contradictory statements

A different hazard may arise when the client seems lucid yet makes contradictory statements in the same conversation. Under Rule 1.14, the lawyer cannot substitute his or her own judgment about the client’s best interests. But can the lawyer selectively listen, giving greater weight to the portions of the conversation that the lawyer believes to be more in the client’s own best interests?

Better for the client and less risky for the lawyer would be to seek clarification using listening techniques such as the active-listening response of rephrasing what you have heard:

 “Mr. Jones, you said earlier that you would like to put your daughter’s name on your retirement account so that she can use the money for the grandchildren. But then you stated that you wish to disown your daughter and remove her from all your accounts entirely. It is not possible to do both of these things. Which would you like to do?”

Using active listening in this way permits the lawyer to pinpoint areas of uncertainty and also to counsel the client on proceeding.

Listening to third parties

Clients who may have diminished capacity may have family, friends, or others assisting them with their legal affairs. From her work on the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline, attorney Adrienne Ashby describes a common scenario: “The client contacts me to discuss a legal issue, and there is a family member in the background ‘coaching’ them or filling in what the client leaves out. It becomes really hard not to listen to this family member and to only listen to the client.  It is even harder when the client repeats what the person says.”

The ethics of this situation are fraught, writes Stanley Herr in Representation of Clients with Disabilities: Issues of Ethics and Control (Hein Online).

On the one hand, family members and close friends know the client and often do have the client’s best interests in mind; they may be the only voice that can fully speak about the client’s values. Thus listening to these voices can be indispensable.

But on the other hand, the voice of the client should remain paramount. Conflicts of interest abound in these situations, Herr writes, “especially where institutionalization, control of financial resources, or other life-determining choices are at issue.”

Comment 3 to Model Rule 1.14 acknowledges this exact situation and allows friends and family to assist. Yet the client’s interests and the client’s decisions must remain paramount:

The client may wish to have family members or other persons participate in discussions with the lawyer. When necessary to assist in the representation, the presence of such persons generally does not affect the applicability of the attorney-client evidentiary privilege. Nevertheless, the lawyer must keep the client’s interests foremost and, except for protective action authorized under paragraph (b), must to look to the client, and not family members, to make decisions on the client’s behalf.

Disregarding what the client has said

What if the client makes a clear, lucid statement that appears to run totally against the client’s interest? The lawyer must evaluate both the client’s ability to communicate as well as the client’s decision-making ability, under comment 5 to Model Rule 1.14:

If a lawyer reasonably believes that a client is at risk of substantial physical, financial or other harm unless action is taken, and that a normal client-lawyer relationship cannot be maintained as provided in paragraph (a) because the client lacks sufficient capacity to communicate or to make adequately considered decisions in connection with the representation, then paragraph (b) permits the lawyer to take protective measures deemed necessary.

The lawyer has a menu of options under Model Rule 1.14(b), although none of them is easy. Comment 5 provides an overview:

Such measures could include: consulting with family members, using a reconsideration period to permit clarification or improvement of circumstances, using voluntary surrogate decisionmaking tools such as durable powers of attorney or consulting with support groups, professional services, adult-protective agencies or other individuals or entities that have the ability to protect the client.

The option to use a “reconsideration period to permit clarification or improvement of circumstances” suggests that the lawyer may indeed choose not to act upon what the client has said he or she wants to do—at least for a while.

Conclusion

These situations are too sensitive for a rigid rule about what a lawyer must listen to or disregard.  Rule 1.14(a) says the lawyer “shall” maintain a normal client-lawyer relationship to the extent possible. Rule 1.14(b) gives the lawyer the option to take steps when the client is at risk. Rule 1.14(c) clarifies that the lawyer must maintain client confidences except when necessary to protect the client’s interest under Rule 1.14(b). There are no neat solutions and a lot of judgment involved. Listening with discernment is a crucial part of that judgment.

I hope this post will open up an opportunity for lawyers to discuss their listening challenges—and possible solutions—in representing clients with diminished capacity. Thank you.