“Putting your best brain forward”: Strive for self-awareness
This is the one of seven strategies that you can follow to help you apply the emerging lessons of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology to the day-to-day work of your practice, as explained in the article Putting your best brain forward: How neuroscience awareness and evolutionary psychology can help lawyers avoid claims and offer better client service
The most important risk-management insight that evolutionary psychology may offer lawyers is more general than the foregoing tips. It’s the basic lesson that most of our choices are not motivated by neutral, objective reason. Rather, the decisions we make are shaped by perceptions and motivations that lie below the level of our consciousness, and were important to our species thousands of years ago, in a very different environment.
It takes effort to adjust our behaviour to the modern world, where mistakes are more likely to lead to ethics complaints or malpractice claims than to being eaten by sabre-toothed tigers. Says Craig E. Jones, Q.C., a professor in the Faculty of Law at Thomson Rivers University, “don’t let one poor choice snowball into something worse.” Once a small thing happens – for example, a lawyer oversells the odds of a client’s success – “our impulse can be to pile on self-serving decisions.” The result? Those improbable cases in which a small exaggeration culminates in someone forging a court order. Difficult ethical situations can often be averted by drawing our attention to the existence of these self-serving impulses, so that we have an opportunity to slow down our decisions. Slow thinking allows us to explore a wider range of options, which can be the key to identifying a less destructive path out of the weeds.
Nathalie Boutet, founder of the Neuro Family Law Institute, is a firm believer in the benefits of self-awareness. When asked what single piece of advice she would give a lawyer just beginning to delve into an understanding of neuroscience, she recommends looking inward: “develop more awareness of your own triggers.” A lawyer who knows what creates fight-or-flight mode – for example, bullying tactics from an opponent – can take steps to avoid turning the client’s fight into the lawyer’s own. “Because if you’ve lost it emotionally, whatever fee you charge your client is too much.”
Boutet credits law schools and law societies with doing a better job, in recent years, of educating lawyers about effective conflict resolution, including outside the courtroom. “But I think,” she says, “that we are now beginning to move into the next phase of evolution in law schools, and that is going to be developing better self-awareness. Because our internal triggers operate before we have a chance to identify them, we need to do the work of understanding what we ourselves bring to the process before we encounter it.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of LAWPRO Magazine. All past issues of LAWPRO Magazine can be found at www.lawpro.ca/magazinearchives
Here is the list of all seven strategies to “put your best brain forward”: