Compassion contemplates concern for another’s suffering, accompanied by a subsequent need to alleviate the suffering. Compassionate family law advocacy requires both a concern with a client’s pain, coupled with appropriate action to address and help reduce that pain. To be an effective and compassionate advocate, it is not enough to simply feel the client’s pain– no matter how well intended. Legal judgment, skill and firm action are all necessary to be a compassionate advocate.
Some believe that in order to be a compassionate lawyer, caring about clients is enough. They conclude the mission is accomplished simply by being a good listener and sincerely sympathizing with their plight. True compassion, however, requires both the heart and the head. True compassion is not passive.
On the other hand, there is another contingent of lawyer who thinks compassion is unnecessary; that acting on the particular dilemma is the only duty. They believe that being superb legal technicians excuse their humanity. And there are those lawyers that actually exploit their clients emotions as a source of profit, excusing their profiteering with the excuse, “that’s what they want me to do.”
None of these views of the practice are compassionate advocacy or effective lawyering for that matter. As Karl Llewellyn observed,
“Compassion without technique is a mess; and technique without compassion is a menace.”
Lawyers must work to understand their clients, and only then take the appropriate action to address the problem. In family law, the grief, anger, fear, and pain must be appreciated in order to effectively advocate. But then we need to take action–in a logical and reasonable way– to help address the pain. Neither a passive do nothing attitude, nor angry advocacy that mirrors the client’s pain, serve the client, or the legal system at large for that matter.
As family lawyers we have a sacred trust. We bear our client’s burdens. People trust us with their children’s lives and their financial futures. We must understand the human condition and remember our own humanity, neither succumbing to cynicism nor impotence.