Debt negatively affects empathy. Empathy makes superior lawyers. A personal story.

Research and common sense tell us that a debt–ridden lawyer is more stressed, will make more mistakes, and is more limited in job choices than a debt-free graduate. But more importantly, debt negatively affect empathy, a key component of the attorney-client relationship. Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s issue from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Without empathy, a lawyer is lost, and if you have any doubt, take a look at the article below. Empathy takes time but the effort can distinguish a winner from a loser.

 In 1999, I crossed the Rio Grande river into the US. I didn’t know much about the American legal system and the intricate nature of immigration proceedings. Due to ineffective legal counsel, I ended up with an order of deportation. I sought the advice of several well-known immigration attorneys here, in Nashville and out of state. I spent a fortune interviewing with lawyers considered “the best of the best.” They charged outrageous fees, gave legal advice based on wrong grounds and wasted my time.  I paid $500 for a ½ hour interview with the most prominent immigration attorney in FL, who assured me that I was never going to get the removal order canceled. Fearful and confused, I returned to Nashville where I found Dawn Dobbs, an honest, smart, fairly young attorney. Dawn took the time to listen and learn an area of the law which she did not know well. She untangled my case, researched, and asked others. She corrected mistakes. She suffered with me. My pain was her pain. My fight was her fight. Contrary to Dawn, all these other lawyers lacked empathy and without empathy a lawyer can only do much. In 2010, I swore as an American citizen thanks to Dawn Dobbs and her guidance.

The worries that come with debt diminish our capacity to take the time to put ourselves in somebody else’s position; thus disabling us from successfully representing our clients as lawyers. I feel fortunate to attend NSL. Nashville School of Law tuition is $5,556.00/year, an insignificant amount compared to the $47,746/year Vanderbilt students have to pay. Additionally, NSL faculty includes some of the best lawyers and judges in town. To mention just a few, NSL staff includes Justice Koch, Jr. of the TN Supreme Court; Judge Smith of the Criminal Court of Appeals; Judge Ash; Judge Dozier; Judge Kennedy and David L. Hudson Jr., a scholar at the First Amendment Center, who has written several books, and also teaches at Vanderbilt. The School is not, however, accredited by the American Bar Association, and in order to practice law in another state, graduates would have to comply with other requirements. I plan to live and retire in Nashville and to mainly practice federal law, thus this fact is of no significance.

Whatever your dream is, from starting your own practice to shifting into a less remunerative, but more meaningful job, it is going to be much harder to have the time to relate to your client when you’re faced with the continuing necessity of clearing your debt, on top of your other expenses. I will hold my diploma without the pressure of having to repair student loans. Making profit to pay school debt will not be the highlight of my life after the classroom, which will certainly open the doors to be empathetic to clients and to improve my legal career.

Empathy and Lawyers


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