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AUTEUR : Dirk Maertens

DATE : 26 février 2013


It is our firm belief that lawyers can benefit enormously from being more empathic. Now before you abandon this article because you think empathy is for softies and only a touchy feely fluffy thing, give us a chance to be convincing on where your business gains enormously from you being empathic. 

Empathy is about having a genuine interest in the person you meet. Being really open to how the person in front of you “behaves” and “is”. The ability to identify and understand another’s situation, feelings and motives. It is our capacity to recognize the concerns other people have. Empathy means: « putting yourself in the other person’s shoes » or « seeing things through someone else’s eyes.

« Empathy is a process of thinking and of emotion: First ,we need to use our reasoning ability to understand another person’s thoughts, feelings, reactions, concerns and motives. This means thinking for a moment about the other person’s perspective in order to begin to understand where they are coming from. Then we need the emotional capacity to be genuinely interested in that person’s concern. Being interested does not mean that we would always agree with the person or that we would change our position. It does mean that we are in tune with what that person is going through, so that we can respond in a manner that acknowledges their thoughts, feelings or concerns. 

So what can you gain as a lawyer from being empathic? It will allow you to become more relevant to your client. It will ensure that your expertise is adjusted to your client’s real needs. Let’s demonstrate this concretely from a business development perspective. Showing this genuine interest in your potential client, will put you in a position to understand the objectives and needs of their organization. You will understand how that translates into their own professional objectives and needs in the business context. If, as a lawyer, you can capture this knowledge then you are perfectly positioned to dig deeper in their needs and to identify the match with the legal services you can offer them. In addition, when having an empathic conversation you can obtain valuable insight on the character and personality of your counterpart and vice versa. This often leads to a better personal connection and is convenient for developing a business relationship.

Our conclusion: empathy is a skill both hard and soft, which will be beneficial in boosting your business relations. As with any skill, you can learn it, further develop it and be successful through it. Many know you as specialist, now your contacts will get to know you as a specialist who understands how to be really relevant to them. As one of our clients said “Wow I always thought this was soft and of no use in business, but it works great! It made me win over some hesitating clients who had a choice of lawyers, but decided to work with me because they felt I dug into the core of their needs and always formulated my solutions based on that”.

Here are some practical tips: 

Listen – truly listen to your clients. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Ask open questions to encourage their sharing of information. 

Be attentive to non-verbal communication. Pay attention to others’ body language, to their tone of voice, to the hidden emotions behind what they are saying to you. This is the way that people often communicate what they think or feel, even when their verbal communication says something different.

Be fully present when you are with people. Put yourself in their shoes.

Allow people their moment. Don’t dismiss their concerns offhand. Don’t rush to give advice. Don’t change the subject. 

Smile at people.

Encourage people, particularly the quiet ones, when they speak up in meetings. A simple thing like an attentive nod can boost people’s confidence.

Give genuine recognition and honest praise. Pay attention to what people are doing and catch them doing the right things.

Take a personal interest in people. Show people that you care about their lives. Ask them questions about their hobbies, their challenges, their families, their aspirations.