Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 9

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT

The 6 Predominant Lawyer
Personality Traits

Empathetic lawyers have
clients who love and respect
them. That's saying a lot
because the public does not
trust the legal profession.

100
90
80

Percentile

70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0

Skepticism

Autonomy

Abstract Thinking

Urgency

Resilience

Sociability

Personality Traits
General Public (50th Percentile)
Lawyers

From the research of Larry Richard, Ph.D.

Courtesy of D.C. Bar member Michelle Cotter Richards

The successful small firm lawyers I have worked with as a practitioner and those
I have studied in my decade at the Bar have made the best of these shared
traits. They use some to their advantage in solving a client's problem and set
aside others in the development of their small firm as a business. They apply the
adage "use the right tool for the right job."
You are right for small firm law if you understand that these shared personality characteristics are best applied to solving the client's problem. You are
right for small firm law when you understand that different tools are needed
for truly understanding the client and for getting more of the kind of clients
you want in your small firm. Lawyers don't succeed when their only tool is a
hammer. When that's all you have, everything looks like a nail.
I grew up in small town retail, so I knew something about client service when
I began working in a small law firm in a small Midwestern town. If you were
good with people, you did very well even if you weren't the smartest lawyer
in town. Today, that translates into possessing empathy, a characteristic that
lawyers tend to inherently lack. Our shared personality traits make us believe
we ought to be able to influence feelings with facts. When we understand
empathy and put it to work, we realize we can only influence a feeling with
another feeling.
As bestselling author and professor Brené Brown says, empathy fuels
connection whereas sympathy drives disconnection. You are empathetic
when you can take the perspective of another person, when you can stay
out of judgment, and when you can recognize emotion in another and
communicate that. Empathy is feeling with someone. Empathy is a vulnerable
choice because you must connect to the feeling in yourself. Empathy is all
about connecting.
If you want to be successful as a small firm lawyer, practice empathizing. Spend
some time with empathetic people. Put it to work in how you interact with a
client. Embrace empathy as a tool to be a more effective problem solver for
your client.

Clients will bond with and want access to empathetic lawyers, so you will need
to set good boundaries in your professional life.
For example, make it clear, orally and in writing, how and when you and your
client will communicate. Lawyer Ben Glass in Fairfax, Virginia, does not take
unplanned phone calls from clients. Clients agree to be on the return call
schedule. This might not work for all lawyers, but it is a conscious boundary Ben
has created that has worked well for years in his firm. He avoids interruptions and
controls the time he spends on return calls. Ben's boundary requires skilled staff.
Empathetic lawyers have clients who love and respect them. That's saying a lot
because the public does not trust the legal profession. They don't think we are
honest, and they don't see us as doing good. When you are empathetic, clients
see you as an exception to their generally negative view of the profession.
To answer the questions posed at the beginning of this column, empathy is the
key to success as a small firm lawyer. Your best clients come from referrals, and
when you are empathetic, clients become a vital part of your marketing
success.
There is another significant benefit to being an empathetic lawyer. If you listen,
you will learn how your client processed the problem they brought to you for
a solution. That process is essential to understand. The more you know about
your client's process in reaching you, the better you will become at getting
more of those problems to solve.

The D.C. Bar Practice Management Advisory Service has helped thousands of Bar
members launch, grow, and manage firms. Its services are free and confidential
under Rule 1.6(j). Dan Mills can be reached at 202-780-2762 or dmills@dcbar.org;
Rochelle Washington is available at 202-780-2764 or rwashington@dcbar.org.
Additional research for this article was provided by Dr. Larry Richard, a trial lawyer
and industrial psychologist.

*

APRIL 2019

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WASHINGTON LAWYER

9


http://dcbar.org

Washington Lawyer - April 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - April 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
DC Bar Practice Management Advisory Service feature
Niching Down to Build Up feature
Going Small feature
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask the Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 12
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - DC Bar Practice Management Advisory Service feature
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Niching Down to Build Up feature
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Going Small feature
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 25
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Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 33
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Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 36
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Ask the Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 48
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 49
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 51
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Last Word
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