NBH 022: Empower Instead of Rescue

Today's topic is an important one. It's a little bit sensitive, I think. It's about empowering our clients instead of rescuing them. As lawyers, we want to help people. That's why we're doing this. That's what motivates us. That's why we chose this profession. However, often we equate helping with rescuing our clients from their situation. I even had lawyers tell me, “I rescue people.” It's not a bad thing, since we're in a position of authority as lawyers.

We're experts. We use our expertise to get our clients through a bad situation. And that can feel a lot like rescuing, like pulling them out of the situation. And the clients probably need to be rescued and are happy for it actually. They are like “save me!” But even though they may need it and ask for it, or want it, are we really helping them by doing rescuing behavior?

As a rescuer, if we put ourselves in that role, we need there to be a victim and a perpetrator to give our role meaning. Otherwise we can't rescue. If there's no victim, we cannot rescue. And so when we rescue our clients, we are relying on their victim status and their need to be saved. We're actually reinforcing this power dynamic by rescuing even if we don't say it, by our actions and intentions. If we want to save somebody from something horrible, we are reinforcing that they can't save themselves, and that there actually is something horrible that is stopping them.

It's like that saying, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Are we teaching our clients how to move through bad situations that happen to all of us? Or are we doing it for them just in that situation so that they're not learning for the next one? Are you making decisions for your clients? Are you protecting them from knowing about their case, maybe to keep your position intact? Are you allowing your clients to behave like victims, both with you and your staff? This can show up in how they deliver information, documents, and money to your firm, how they speak to you, how they address you and your staff. How is that relationship? Is there mutual respect? Are you empowering your clients? The lawyer leaders that I work with have a model of empowering their clients and that's what can set us apart.

Are you giving the clients the respect that they and you deserve? Are you allowing your clients to rise up to these reasonable expectations? Are you collaborating with other professionals because maybe a client needs help that you cannot provide: that may be with their mental health, or with their financial health? There are so many different other professions which can help with this. Maybe they need that and you can connect them to those services. And that is a way of empowerment as opposed to trying to do everything. As lawyers, in our efforts, in our wanting to be of service, we tend to overextend. Leading law firms value client communication and empowerment and above all else. And I invite you to do the same.

Results are important. And I know we're often focused on the results for client satisfaction. But at the end of the case, results can only go so far. Just think that a client who has been continually informed of her case and given agency in decision-making will be changed forever. I practice immigration law and I know that with such uncertain times I can only empower my clients. I cannot promise any results and I can't even compare to other cases; nothing makes sense anymore. And so I'm forced to continue my model of empowering, educating, guiding, being there for the client as they navigate through their situation, through their legal issues.

If we can change people by empowering them, we're teaching them how to navigate all of life. This is applicable to other parts of their life, future problems, past problems, how they relate to the world. And this is life changing. As lawyers we are engaged in life changing work. The conflict or injury that's happened to a client can be a gateway to empower the client. That's how I practice law. Something happened to a client, and it is a difficult situation. They've opened up a little bit to get some help, and so we can step in and help guide them. This is also what I do with my lawyer clients, my lawyer leaders and my New Billable Hour clients, and my Holistic Lawyer clients. I'm helping you see the best in you so then you can make a change by providing that structure for your clients.

That's what we do. Lawyers are modern-day healers and we are here to heal the planet as we move into that next evolution of us, of what the society is going to be. Because the society right now is falling apart and we need to build something even better. We do have the capacity and the know-how and the expertise. We just have to expand our idea of what's possible. By focusing on empowering your clients rather than rescuing them, you're leading the way for change in the profession and also a more satisfying career for you.

Thank you to the sponsor of this podcast episode and blog post: Immigration Law Office of Magnolia Zarraga, located in Salinas, CA, focuses exclusively on family based & humanitarian options, including family petitions, military parole in place, adjustment, consular processing, waivers, naturalization, and U & VAWA cases. Immigration Law Office of Magnolia Zarraga can be found at www.zarragalaw.com. For a free copy of “The New Billable Hour” book and other resources, visit www.newbillablehour.com


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