To my fellow attorneys, a “legal acts of kindness” pep talk is long overdue. Just like Kid President’s famous pep talk, attorneys also need to find ways to make the world more awesome. And, since we celebrated World Kindness Day this week, legal acts of kindness are exactly what’s needed.
World Kindness Day has been observed annually on November 13 since 1998. This day was started by the World Kindness Movement (WKM), a not-for-profit organization that consists of 27 nations, including the U.S. The purpose of World Kindness Day is to make the world a better place by celebrating and promoting good deeds and pledging acts of kindness, either as individuals or as organizations.
What are Legal Acts of Kindness?
Attorneys don’t typically talk about legal acts of kindness. So, let’s begin to change that. Here are five ideas:
- Be fair and empathetic. As we know, people are typically coming to attorneys at a time of crisis in their lives. The fact that the legal system is confusing and intimidating doesn’t help. It’s important to remember this while you’re servicing your clients. As officers of the court, it’s our responsibility to provide the public the best possible experience when they engage with the legal and judicial systems. Understand that emotions can get the best of people, so don’t take it personally or add more fuel to a highly charged situation. Instead, stick to the facts and the law, while also demonstrating to all parties (e.g., clients, opposing counsel, judges) that you understand the challenge of the situation.
- Agree that it’s okay to disagree, but not to be mean. The reality is that lawyers are going to disagree with opposing counsel, other attorneys and even judges. A good relationship isn’t the absence of conflict; rather, it’s how we react to the conflict. Do you really need to send that sarcastic email? How about that condescending voicemail? Is a shouting match outside the courtroom going to move the case forward? Instead of giving in to the quick impulse to respond negatively, take a breath. Listen to the other side’s position and evaluate it based on your client’s position. If you still see no room for compromise, assert your client’s position. Explain why it’s supported by the law without adding unnecessary and harsh words.
- Thank another attorney. The benefits of gratitude are well-documented. Achieving a career as an attorney is no small task and none of us have done it alone. There are countless members of the legal profession who have helped you get where you are today. Take the time to visit them, give them a call or write a note expressing your gratitude.
- Take care of yourself. One of the most important legal acts of kindness is taking care of your own well-being. If you haven’t been eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising or making time for the things you enjoy, chances are you aren’t going to be the most effective attorney or pleasant colleague. So, take a break. Go for a walk and get some fresh air. Better serving yourself will ultimately better serve the legal profession.
- Work for improved access to justice. In their most recent The Justice Gap report, the Legal Services Corporation found that 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help. As attorneys, we cannot sit back and allow this to continue. There are numerous ways to get involved in or donate to pro bono initiatives. Check out some available opportunities and take action.
These are only a few suggestions for how to incorporate legal acts of kindness into your life and practice. In the comments below, please share other ideas.