What do you get when you cross a lawyer and a social psychologist?
The American Bar Association found the answer to that question in the publication of Psychology for Lawyers, a well-written, interesting book by Jennifer Robbennolt and Jean Sternlight. The book covers a wide range of topics, applying psychological science to the daily activities of trial lawyers such as interviewing and counseling clients, conducting discovery, writing and negotiating.
I remember well the advice I received as a young lawyer from older, experienced trial lawyers. “Don’t ever” do this, or “Always” do that. The advice involved things such as which cases to accept or how to pick jurors and I was happy to have guidance that I never received in my law school courses.
Robbennolt and Sternlight point out that most lawyers learn as I did, either by advice received from others or from trial and error. When we examine it, the advice received from others is just trial and error, one step removed. Experience can be a great teacher, but in a society that prides itself in the scientific method, we should apply all that science can teach to the art of practicing law.
Psychology for Lawyers attempts to provide psychological science that lawyers need in their practice. The first chapters are a crash course in the aspects of psychology for practicing lawyers including the science of memory, how emotions influence thinking and the psychology of judgment and decision making. They also examine the psychology of persuasion and influence and provide strategies for facilitating good communication.
I was particularly interested in the book’s approach to negotiation and mediation. Although mediating the litigated case is a relatively new concept in many areas, lawyers in Florida have been using mediation as a tool to help settle cases for over 30 years. We recognize that the mindset of an effective mediator must be radically different from an advocate or a judge.
Robbennolt and Sternlight take the different mindset a step further and argue, “Attorneys who are familiar with psychology can be particularly effective as representatives in mediation.” Using principles taught by psychology, they outline the importance of:
- Understanding the interests of the parties (not just their positions) in seeking a settlement;
- Making proposals effective by considering timing, and how and to whom to convey an offer;
- Helping clients understand and evaluate proposals by thinking systematically; and
- Using the benefits of mediation including the assistance of a neutral, the presence of parties and the opportunity to listen and learn and to be heard.
The authors end their book by going beyond the science necessary for representing clients and study the science that can help attorneys be productive, successful and happy. In a time of multi-tasking where we are expected to do more with less, they discuss the importance of a growth mindset and an understanding that happiness in the practice of law (and all of life) is “a process or journey rather than a final destination.” We probably already know that, but it is good to be reminded.
___Psychology for Lawyers By Jennifer K. Robbennolt and Jean R. Sternlight Published by the American Bar Association, 2012 (This is a non-affiliate link. Doyle Conflict Resolution does not receive compensation for any book reviews on this site.)
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