THE FLAWED STEREOTYPE
We’ve all seen it: the pounding on the desk, the shouting across the courtroom.
Nearly every legal drama in the past half-century has perpetrated the same cutthroat stereotype of lawyers. This made me, a senior at UCLA and a prospective law school student, worried about my future. When I told people I wanted to be a lawyer, they’d cringe. “You would be miserable as a lawyer?” they’d say. “Did your parents brainwash you into it?” others asked.
And frankly, for a short time, I began to worry that they were right. Was I about to take a turn into the dark side?
My story is not unique. Aspiring law students across America face a similar struggle—just because they aren’t loud and combative they have been discouraged from going to law school. It’s as if the soft-spoken, empathic types don’t have the chops to be lawyers.
But then, thankfully, my view changed. I met Daria Roithmayr, a professor of law at USC, and she told me something that I’ll never forget: “Great lawyers come from all different backgrounds,” she said. “You can be a successful lawyer regardless of whether you are soft spoken or flamboyant.”
Professor Roithmayr explained that the empathic lawyer could have an edge over others. She used the example of a character on the new TV series, True Detective, who uses his ability to empathize with the suspect to break down his barriers and eventually get him to confess to the crime. This character uses empathy as his “superpower.”
Now, sadly, many law school hopefuls haven’t heard Professor Roithmayr’s rebuttal. It’s fair to assume that most college students still think you need to be the loud, aggressive type to succeed as an attorney.
Remember, we are the millennial generation. The TV set raised most of us. We’ve seen shows like Suits and The Practice, along with movies like A Few Good Men. The effect they’ve had on us cannot be downplayed.
This may seem like a non-issue at first glance. But in ten or twenty years from now, what will happen if all the soft-spoken, empathic potential lawyers are dissuaded from applying to law school because they don’t fit the perpetuated archetype?
Our whole legal system will lose out on the type of attorneys our society needs the most.
Being soft-spoken is not a liability, but an asset. Those who are soft-spoken and empathic get their point across by speaking thoughtfully instead of speaking loudly.A soft-spoken lawyer will observe, ask questions, and listen in order to advance their negotiation tactics.
A lawyer needs to be mindful and intuitiveto understand the depths of our laws and the opponent’s perspective. The stereotypical lawyer may strive in courthouse dramas, but that’s not the only way to succeed in real life.
Imagine a lawyer who intuitively feels what the jury needs to hear. Now imagine the lawyer who can look at the case from his opponent’s perspective. This lawyer analyzes and develops his case in a language that persuades his opponent.
In a world of fist-pounding attorneys, the empathic lawyer has a secret weapon. Emotional intelligence isn’t only for psychologists.
There was a time when women were not believed to make good lawyers. That was proven wrong. It’s now time for the introverts to take center stage.
Lawyers and law schools alike will benefit by educating the public about the multiple faces of the legal profession.
It takes a certain analytical skill to be a good lawyer, but in the end, it takes all kinds to make a profession. So don’t succumb to the naysayers.You don’t have to be a bulldog to be a good attorney—it’s your work ethic and passion that determines your success.
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