John Steinbeck said, “You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.” And what he was really talking about is empathy. And I think it is crucial in life to have empathy. Empathy allows you to form general connections with people, and it’s those connections that allow you to be an advocate for people. And in my arena and what I do, that’s a quintessential element of being able to be effective, being able to understand what someone has gone through. If you’re empathetic, then you can be compassionate. And that compassion leads you to say, “What can I do to make a difference? How do I change this? How do I make this horrific, terrible injustice right? How do I make it better for the person or the family?” So the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, that ability to understand the pain that they go through, the loss, their struggles, their successes, they become real to you.
I have to be able to have that empathy and that compassion to convey that loss to a jury. Because only if they understand what this person had before, will they understand the loss they have today. And the only way I understand what they lost is to be able to put myself in their shoes, to be able to understand their sorrow, their pain, what it means to not be able to sleep at night. What it means not to be able to take care of yourself, what it means not to be able to feed yourself, what it means to have to rely on someone else for your activities and daily living, things that you and I take for granted every day. It’s hard because when you are empathetic and put yourself in someone else’s place, you understand what their life is like. And it’s sad because in most of my cases, my client’s life is forever altered.
One thing as trial lawyers is some people think that we have to just be all about the law and all about citing statutes and all about big words and legalese. There’s so much power in being vulnerable and so much power in understanding that it’s okay to have emotions. Everybody on that jury has emotions. And remember, no one’s perfect and no one on that jury is going to expect perfection. Embrace it. Embrace the good, the bad, the ugly, because we’re all human. And so it doesn’t mean perfection, and it doesn’t mean that you have to be a robot and have no emotion. I am emotional. What my client has gone through is emotional. And if you don’t share that experience and you don’t tell that to a client, and you talk about how catastrophically injured someone is with this blank stare, then you’re not real.
So all those emotions that you channel when you’re talking about damages, you’re talking about someone having to bury their child. And if your voice cracks when you’re talking about it, it’s okay. A real live human being has compassion. And it’s just all those things that play into what makes you a good human being. Forget about in a court of law, but just you want to be a good human being on this earth and you want your footprint to be a gentle one, a kind one, a civil one. And as attorneys, as trial attorneys, that’s what we want to do, then we can walk that line. We can stay in that path. Then we’ve done a good job. And I’m proud.