Psycholawgical Counseling

     Can you fake caring?
     Should you?
     Will your clients be able to tell if you’re fake-caring?
     Cynic that I am, those were some of the questions coursing through my brain last week after spotting an article on by an NYU Law School vice dean, titled “Lawyers and emotional intelligence,” in which lawyers are advised to send nice notes to clients and share embarrassing stories.
     Imagine billing for those notes and stories.
     There go the good feelings.
     Now imagine not billing for them after all the time you’ve spent working on your humanity.
     Clearly, the only way this works to your benefit is if you’re so nice that the clients put you in their wills.
     The vice dean apparently has a Ph.D. in psychology and runs “emotional intelligence” workshops at the law school. My (once again, cynical) response to learning this was to wonder why she wasn’t spending her time healing the emotional scars of people subjected to law school and law practice instead of teaching classes.
     Be that as it may, being nice to clients is a fine idea. It could help your business.
     Or not.
     Let’s use the hypothetical in the vice dean’s article:
     “Consider one of New York City’s most successful lawyers, stranded on the airport Tarmac, deliberately managing his own frustration about the delay by using the time to think through his client roster, sending notes to the ones who are dealing with personal difficulty (going through a fraught divorce, husband with cancer, eldest daughter in rehab). Imagine the impact if you are the one with the personal crisis and you get a warm note from that celebrity lawyer.”
     Are you imagining the impact?
     Does the horribly distraught client think “what a wonderful person this celebrity lawyer is for thinking of me at a time like this”?
     Or does the horribly distraught client think “this asshole that I barely know has got some nerve trying to score points with me while I’m going through this”?
     It’s a fine line.
     Maybe you have to be a “celebrity lawyer” for this to work.
     I’m having a hard time imagining these workshops catching on in too many law schools. Think back to all the law professors you’ve encountered in class and what they put you through.
     There’s not a lot of niceness expertise out there.
     But I don’t want to give the impression that I think this is a bad idea. In fact, I think it’s a really good one. It just doesn’t go quite far enough.
     Over the years, I’ve looked at billions of lawsuits and appellate opinions. (That’s a conservative estimate – I’ve lost count.) My conclusion from all this reading is that a very large percentage of people engaging in litigation might have been helped by some therapeutic psychological counseling, rather than years in court.
     Or perhaps drugs.
     Emotional intelligence isn’t quite enough – especially for lawyers who only had a workshop on niceness in law school.
     What we need are lawyers fully trained in what I call psycholawgical counseling. Law schools should be required to provide full course work in both legal practice and psychology/psychiatry.
     You’ll be able to tame your demanding, insane clients and also provide expert representation if their obsessions might actually lead to some money.
     You can charge standard legal fees or you can charge for weekly therapy sessions. You might even be able to bill insurance companies for the therapy.
     And if you end up hating law practice, you can give yourself some therapy.
     Or a prescription.

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