For every lawyer, a case is an exercise in legal maneuvering. We record facts, file pleadings to argue the law, and hope we get a favorable result. When the file is closed, we have another story, another lesson. But how many times do we really learn from our clients? How often do we embrace the facts or the client’s behavior or interactions with opposing counsel as an opportunity to evaluate ourselves, our reactions, our self-love?
Before you discount this as a misplaced article on self-help, let me explain.
During my legal career, I have represented many kinds of people. Sometimes my clients are charged with a criminal offense. Sometimes, they are immersed in a seemingly endless family law matter. No matter how different the cases or how sophisticated the clients, what is true for all my clients is that, by the time I get involved, they are at a low point in their lives. Often, the client looks to me (and every lawyer) for guidance and help.
I had always been my performance critic par excellence. I am often unforgiving of my mistakes. In the past, I would give myself performance reviews lacking any kindness whatsoever. Until recently.
I had the good fortune to be in a relationship with a wonderful man who taught me the importance of being kind to oneself and the value of self-forgiveness. I would share my frustrations with him, and I would rant about how poorly I performed or how I could have done this or that differently. I often put myself down. He was bothered by the unkindness I showed toward myself. He said he would never allow anyone to speak about me the way I spoke about myself. In his opinion, mistakes happen and the practice of law is just that: practice. We practice to be better lawyers. And we never stop learning.
But do we practice to be better humans?
The defendant’s statement evoked emotions that I have been working very hard to embrace, accept, and use as a catalyst for change.
Recently, a defendant uttered words during his sentencing hearing that were an example of human dignity, self-awareness, and self-love. In a moving elocution to the court, this individual expressed how the more than two years he spent incarcerated awaiting a resolution gave him the opportunity to self-reflect and to work through events in his life, to recognize his faults. He used his experience as an opportunity to create positive and effective change for himself.
In his words to the court, he demonstrated profound self-awareness and self-respect, and in turn, his words were a statement of endless love to his family. It was moving. I was in tears. The defendant’s statement evoked emotions that I have been working very hard to embrace, accept, and use as a catalyst for change.
Let’s practice law in full and complete self-awareness. We are lawyers, but above all, we are humans. Do we evaluate ourselves against other people or against our own unrealistic expectations? Are we kind to ourselves?
Lawyers cannot see clients as worthy of love and good things until we begin seeing ourselves through the lens of kindness.