Clients, Empathy, and Compassion: Introducing First-Year Students to the Heart of Lawyering
Kristin B. Gerdy, 𝘊𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘴, 𝘌𝘮𝘱𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘺, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘊𝘰𝘮𝘱𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯: 𝘐𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘰𝘥𝘶𝘤𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘍𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵-𝘠𝘦𝘢𝘳 𝘚𝘵𝘶𝘥𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘓𝘢𝘸𝘺𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨, 87 Nᴇʙ. L. Rᴇᴠ. 1 (2008).
In this piece I explore the need for instruction and experience with the "heart" of law practice within the first year of law school. According to the report on legal education prepared by the Carnegie Foundation, the two major limitations in American legal education are 1) a lack of attention to practical education, including a marked lack of understanding client problems, and 2) failure to support development of ethical and social skills. With the release of this report it is likely that law school faculties throughout the United States will be looking at their curricula to see how to better fill these gaps and better prepare the students to be practicing lawyers rather than legal scholars. This presents an important opportunity for law faculty, many of whom already recognize that legal education means more than teaching students the complexities of legal analysis, often referred to as how to "think like a lawyer," but also how to communicate, work with people, and advocate for their clients like lawyers do. But, what they may not recognize is that they are also perfectly suited to teach the "heart" of lawyering. Whether it is helping students to see their clients as real people with real problems or helping students to realize that empathy and compassion are critical for successful law practice, the first year of law school is the ideal place to begin to fill this gap in legal education.
87 Neb. L. Rev.
Nebraska Law Review