Emotion in practice

There’s an interesting article by Steven Keeva in the ABA Journal, entitled “What Tears May Tell: Sometimes It’s Beneficial to Show Emotions When Working With Clients,” the article’s thesis is that showing genuine emotion permits deep interpersonal connection and communication.  The article focuses on two stories: one of a lawyer who cried when recounting the case in which he made an enormous different in a client’s life, and another of a lawyer who cried when his client began talking about her child who had recently died in an accident.

We tend not to think of lawyers showing emotions.  Certainly it’s not appropriate to cry when we’re in a formal professional setting and representing clients.  (Or is it?  Is it ever appropriate to get choked up in court?  Does it play well, and does any concern about how it plays undermine the authenticity of the tears?  I would love to hear feedback on this — suffice it to say that my experience with patent litigation generally didn’t ever move me to tears even in private, so this is an area outside my realm of experience.)

But we do hear of stories — or perhaps see examples — of lawyers expressing anger or loathing.  I’ve been in depositions in which a lawyer I know and like has swiftly morphed from Ms. Affable into an inferno of rage based on a witness’s response to a question… Is that appropriate?  Since it’s sometimes difficult to tell from a cold transcript what emotion lay behind an exchange, is it risky?  I sometimes wonder whether fury is better accepted in the law because it’s a less vulnerable and more powerful emotion than sadness.  Whether it’s a “useful” emotion in practice may be another question altogether, however.

And, in the final analysis, does any of this matter?  Is it possible to be authentic and yet not to express emotions (or particular emotions) while playing the role of a professional?  I think the answer is twofold: first, that authenticity requires awareness of emotion and healthy release at an appropriate time, and second, that determination of an appropriate time may vary dramatically based on the lawyer, the client, and the circumstance.  I think trouble comes when we lose the perception of emotion and bury it deep within ourselves — or when a dam bursts and emotion comes flooding out without reserve.

When did you last feel emotion in practice?  When did you last feel an emotion other than anger (or frustration, annoyance, etc.) in practice?  If you can’t remember…. Perhaps it’s time to do some exploration.  Perhaps the pace of professional life has removed your awareness of emotion, perhaps you’re not deeply connected to what you’re doing, or perhaps your practice simply doesn’t give rise to deep emotion.   But query: since our clients are individuals or are business entities made up of individuals, won’t emotions come into play at some point in every representation?

More questions than answers in this one.  But, as usual, I think Keeva’s article makes excellent points that call for inquiry and self-assessment.