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The emotional side of practicing law


I am a really big fan of Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.” The movie is pretty epic, and I have a soft spot in my heart for Elle, even though I am a brunette. She is pretty much the 2000s version of Cher from “Clueless.”

One of the scenes in the movie that always come to mind is the scene where the professor asks the class who said “the law is reason free from passion.” Answer: Aristotle. The quote, although altruistic and beautiful, is not the reality of the practice of law, nor life, as Elle so aptly pointed out in her valedictorian speech.

The law is not free of emotion; in fact, I would argue laws, in part, are a result of emotional reactions to any given situation. And emotions do play a role in the practice.

Most of us went to law school to gain the tools to help others. Why? Because there are many people in our society that need help. So many people desperately need justice.

We have a deep-seated desire to help right those wrongs committed to those who cannot fight on their own.  Whether it is a client, who has been arrested and finds themselves in the crosshairs of the criminal justice system, or going through a divorce, or who has not been paid for work and is in a contract dispute – at the core of these issues and disputes is the sense that a wrong has been committed.

Generally, most people don’t seek out legal help preemptively; we are called upon in times of need.

In each legal problem there are varying degrees of emotion involved. Clients come to us scared, distrustful, angry, confused, bitter, you name it. We all carry the gamut of emotions in life.

It is no different in the practice of law which is why Aristotle postulation was not entirely accurate when it is applied in the context of the client experience with lawyers and with the system. Our job as advisers is to toe the line between becoming ensnared in our client’s emotional state and maintaining empathy and commitment to the client. We must keep a certain space in order to remain objective.

But we also must demonstrate that we are committed to our client’s cause and will advise them to the bets of our ability, be a true advocate, and guide them towards the best resolution possible. That cannot be done if we are too involved or too disconnected.

Do not ever lose sight that at the end of the day, we are human beings, and it is that common connection that bonds us to those we serve. Clients want to know their lawyers who advocate for them are not robots, but real people who understand the very real problems they face.

Karen Munoz Karen Munoz is a personal injury attorney at Dolan Law. She represents victims of negligence and crime. She is a contributor to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. A lifelong Chicagoan, Karen also teaches yoga at Village Yoga.