Resources Newsletter Archive Issue 20, April 2002

Issue 20, April 2002

  • EMPATHY: The Essential Skill for Professional Success (And a Fulfilling Life)

Making The Hours of Your Life Worth More™

Issue # 20
EMPATHY: The Essential Skill for Professional Success (And a Fulfilling Life)


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2. "EMPATHY: The Essential Skill for Professional Success (And a Fulfilling Life)"

3. New Coaching Groups Forming:

*** Women Partners - Strategic Planning for Your Career and Your Life

*** Corporate Counsel - Balancing Work and Life

*** Marketing for Women Lawyers

*** Mid-Level Associates - What's Next?

*** Develop Your Essential Empathy Skills


ARTICLE SUMMARY: Self-awareness, self-management and empathy skills are defined. The effective use of these abilities in your dealings with clients and colleagues can make the difference between being a competent attorney and achieving extraordinary success.



Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Editor

Ellen is the founder of™ Personal and Career Coaching for Lawyers Determined to Achieve Professional Success AND a Fulfilling Life



Most attorneys -- especially women -- live impossibly busy lives. Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success, deciding on the best practice area or work setting, and making career transitions can be a daunting task, even for the most gifted and accomplished lawyer.

Just as every person deserves the best possible legal counsel, every attorney deserves professional, dedicated support in accomplishing her most important goals. You know how hard you've worked to get where you are -- you serve others, both personally and professionally. You've earned the right to both career success and a fulfilling life.

This newsletter is intended to help you create a satisfying life -- within, or outside of -- legal practice.



"Beyond the Billable Hour"™ now has more than 1000 subscribers from throughout the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Italy, Greece and Romania.

Work settings of subscribers include private practice in firms of all sizes, corporations, trade associations, government, the judiciary and education.

We welcome all of our new subscribers and thank our returning readers for your loyalty. is always working to create a community of attorneys committed to finding ways to create professional excellence in humane workplaces that respect the importance of life outside of work.

Please continue to send us strategies that have worked for you so we can share these with others in the community. We always welcome your feedback, comments, suggestions and questions.



2. EMPATHY: The Essential Skill for Professional Success (and a Fulfilling Life)

"How we are perceived as human beings is becoming
increasingly important in the new economy. There
was a time when people could sit back and play
head games behind closed doors. There was a time
when people who were unsympathetic, mean-spirited,
or unkind could feel secure knowing little could
be done about it. The new economy doesn't allow
for this."
Tim Sanders - "Love is the Killer App"
New York: Crown Business, 2002, p.18


Empathy refers to the process of sharing in another person's thoughts and feelings in an effort to understand them. Basically, it's the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and see things from his or her perspective.

Although you may think of empathy as something that therapists practice, the fact is that the most successful attorneys have well-developed empathic abilities.

A lawyer who can empathize with prospects or clients will succeed at getting their business, loyalty and referrals.

An attorney in a management role who can empathize with subordinates will elicit commitment, careful quality work and productivity.

An associate will get more mentoring and will be in a far better position to influence her future in her workplace if she can empathize with more senior lawyers.

A lawyer negotiating balanced hours will get more support from management if she can empathize with their concerns.

An Example:

Imagine you're looking for child care for your baby. The first potential au pair tells you all about what kind of a person she is, what she likes to do with children, her approach to discipline, how long she thinks you should let a baby cry and how often you should feed him.

The second interviewee asks you what you're looking for in a child care provider. She is interested in your ideas about how often your baby should be fed, whether you want her held immediately when she cries, what concerns you have about leaving your child, what kind of play and stimulation you think your baby needs and what she can do to give you peace of mind when you're at work.

Assuming both candidates have equal training and experience, whom would you hire?

Although the point seems self-evident in this context, I'm often surprised when lawyers fail to see the relevance of empathy to their own professional success.



In order to be able to effectively attend to others, you need to be aware of yourself. This is because self-regulation is required for empathy and you can't regulate what you're unaware of.

It's essential to have a deep understanding of your own values, motives, strengths and limitations. It's not always easy to be honest with yourself, but it's necessary if you want to be interpersonally effective.

Realistically appraise yourself without being overly self-critical. Ask others for feedback. The knowledge of how others perceive you is a powerful tool.

Monitor yourself; pay attention to your feelings, actions and intentions. Observe the impact of your actions on others.

Ideally, you want to be able to choose when others will perceive you as tough or collaborative or compassionate. But in order to do this you need to know how you feel inside when you behave in a particular way, and how others react to you when you're having that experience. Once you can listen to your own gut reactions you can decide what to do with them - what to talk about directly, when to calm down before you discuss things, when you need a break and when you need to assert yourself.

Self-awareness is also critical for empathy since we tend to perceive others through the filter of our own needs, fears, expectations and hopes. Being aware of what we expect to hear or are afraid of hearing enables us to attend beyond the filter - to try to hear what's really being communicated.


The ability to manage our own emotions is essential for the kind of interpersonal effectiveness required for success in the law. Although litigators are typically keenly aware of this in the courtroom, lawyers often forget to develop and use self-management skills when it comes to business development, managing subordinates or "managing up."

As difficult as it is to manage disturbing feelings, it's equally empowering to use this skill. Imagine, for example, feeling provoked by a young associate who has failed to correctly complete a task you desperately needed in order to be prepared for a deposition. Awareness - and management of - your frustration and anger can keep you from exploding. You'll be able to think clearly about solutions rather than focusing on fault. How you respond to the associate will influence what he learns from the situation as well as the reputation you develop both within your organization and outside of it.

If you're the associate in this situation, self-management is equally important. First of all, the ability to manage your anxiety and your workload might have allowed you to complete your assignment on time. Self-awareness might have enabled you to ask for help when you needed it. And when you make a mistake, self-management is the most important skill you'll need for managing the partner who is angry at you. You'll be able to respond to appropriately expressed disappointment and constructive criticism non-defensively. And if the anger is expressed destructively, you'll be able to maintain sufficient calm to handle the interaction in a manner that maintains your self-respect.


The ability to grasp the perspective of the other person can make you tremendously effective as an attorney. If you're under pressure to develop business and you hate the idea of "sales," then recognizing the importance of empathy in client development may turn you into a rainmaker. Clients don't like sales pitches any more than you do. They don't want to hear why you're great and what you can do. They want you to listen to them - to understand their business or personal problem, to hear their concerns, to deeply comprehend their goals. Only then will they be open to hearing the solutions you have to offer.

Listening deeply and compassionately - not just to the words but to the emotional message - gives you the power to respond to the real issue at hand.

Suppose you're trying to negotiate a balanced hours schedule with your employer. You can talk *ad nauseum* about why the firm should do this for you. But chances are that this approach won't get you more than a reputation for being "entitled." Although my own view is that we're all entitled to do work we love without sacrificing our lives, you're more likely to actually achieve this if you make every effort to understand the firm's concerns. Perhaps the partners believe that certain work cannot be completed on a reduced hours schedule, or that asking to reduce your hours indicates a lack of commitment to your career, or that your clients won't feel served by attorneys who aren't available 24/7. Once you look at the issue from their perspective, you're in a much stronger position to tailor your proposal to their concerns and to address how you'll be able to complete your assignments within the hours you plan to work.

Listening carefully and observing accurately will make you more successful in most everything you do as an attorney. It's worth the hard work of asking yourself, "What am I feeling?" "Am I open to hearing what the other person is saying?" "Why is this person taking this position?" "What might have happened to lead her to think this way?"


The single most important thing you can earn by being empathic is trust. When a client knows that you truly understand his situation, he's more likely to trust your advice. A client who trusts you will work collaboratively with you. It will be easier to get information you need. Your billing is less likely to be questioned. The client will give you new business and refer others to you.

Showing understanding earns you the right to be heard. When people feel that you've really listened to them, they're far more likely to be open to listening to you. This means you'll have more influence. It's easy to forget that quietly listening now will give you much more leverage in the future. That's why you need good self-management skills. These will enable you to listen carefully first rather than launching into stating your case or explaining what you know.

In today's competitive marketplace, being an empathic listener will make you distinctive. Prospects remember lawyers who listened to their questions before they provided answers. The trust you engender with empathy creates loyalty and commitment - and buys you forgiveness when you've made a mistake. People who know you really understand and care about their situation and perspective will give you greater latitude. And best of all, the cooperative, committed, loyal relationships you develop with your empathic skills will make going to work a lot more fun.


In case your self-assessment tells you that your empathy skills could use some fine-tuning, the good news is that these skills can be learned. If you can't find a good mentor and model, consider hiring a professional coach.

And if you already have excellent empathy skills, stop thinking that you're just a nice person. These are professional skills that deserve recognition and reward. An empathic attorney is likely to be effective with diverse groups of people and with individuals from other cultures. This is a tremendous advantage in today's marketplace. Don't let others take your skills for granted by chalking them up to "niceness." Your relationship skills add enormous value to your firm. Imagine what the organization might be like without you.


3. NEW VIRTUAL COACHING GROUPS FORMING will be offering several new coaching groups beginning this spring.

We'd like to offer them at times that match the schedules of those interested in attending. So, if you're interested in one of the groups below please send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with the name of the group in the subject line. In the body of the email, please indicate your preferred times and any suggestions or questions.

All you need to participate in a virtual coaching group is a telephone. All group members call into the same teleconferencing line and are instantly connected.

It's a wonderful way to connect with other attorneys facing similar challenges and benefit from the collective wisdom and experience of lawyers from diverse geographic locations.


Our first "Women Partners" group was a great success so we've decided to invite new members to join some of the women partners who participated in our initial six-session group. This group is an opportunity to join in an ongoing forum to discuss the unique issues facing women partners in law firms. Topics will include:

* work/life balance
* business development
* coping with a majority male organization
* negotiating with in-house attorneys who only want to work with men
* increasing your influence
* serving on management and other powerful committees
* negotiating reduced hours schedules
* developing leadership skills
* managing teams
* mentoring women associates
* getting control of your practice and your life

This group will meet twice/month and each meeting will last one hour.

Fee: $129/month


Working in-house no longer means you'll have a reasonable schedule simply because you're not working "billable hours." Women in-house counsel face significant challenges balancing work and life and their professional futures depend upon the ability to successfully navigate their way between multiple demands.

This group will meet once/month for six months and each meeting will last one hour.

Fee: $299 for all six meetings


The response to this in-person seminar has been so enthusiastic that we've decided to offer it exclusively to subscribers of "Beyond the Billable Hour" (tm) via a virtual coaching group.

This group will meet twice/month for eight meetings and each meeting will last one hour.

Learn how to effectively market your services without sacrificing your personal life - or your self-respect.

Fee: $399 for all eight meetings


Many associates, especially in large firms, reach an important decision point after a few years at their firm. You've paid off much of your law school debt but you're used to living on this salary. How do you decide whether to stay at the firm or look elsewhere? How do you assess your chances of making partner - or decide if you want to make partner where you are? How much of your personal life have you sacrificed to get here - and how much are you willing to give up in the years ahead?

This group will address these and related issues in six once/month meetings and each meeting will last one hour.

Fee: $299 for all six meetings


Learn the skills of self-awareness, self-management and empathy. This is an opportunity to practice and develop these skills and to learn when to use them most effectively.

This group will meet for four consecutive weeks for one hour/week.

Fee: $199 for all four meetings


Additional information about each of these groups will be sent to everyone on our mailing list. Please let us know about your interest and time preferences.

Send email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call Ellen at 301-578-8686.

Please forward this issue to anyone you think might be interested in these virtual coaching groups.

They can subscribe to "Beyond the Billable Hour"™ at


BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is published monthly by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of She brings 20 years of experience assisting women attorneys to her work in Lawyers Life Coach™. is a professional and personal coaching firm specializing in working virtually (by phone with email and fax backup) with women attorneys interested in developing strategies to find greater satisfaction in their careers within the law or in exploring career alternatives for lawyers.

Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. established to coach busy lawyers who might benefit from the insights gained from 20 years as a psychologist combined with her experience and familiarity with the legal profession.

Ellen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester and is a managing member of Metropolitan Behavioral Health Care, LLC., a multispecialty, multidisciplinary psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland.

She is a member of the International Coach Federation and a graduate of the MentorCoach Program™.


NOTE: BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a mental health professional and should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, or other psychological service.



For a FREE subscription to BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ sign up at: or send an email to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with the word subscribe in the body of the letter.



Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D.
Phone: (301) 578-8686
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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