In an address to the Colorado Bar Association last month, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser discussed ways to elevate the role of the legal profession and the role of lawyers in our society. He focused on empathetic leadership by lawyers and the effect of that leadership on the profession and on our democratic republic.
Attorney General Weiser began by emphasizing the “most important competency for lawyers”–empathy.
Let me begin by contrasting empathy with sympathy. Sympathy means you understand that someone is suffering and want to help them. This involves a more distant or abstracted experience with, at best, an intellectual connection. Empathy means you are touched by and feel what another person feels, creating an emotional connection that can build a trusted relationship.
Attorney General Weiser addressed the need for empathy in the current historical moment. “For our society, a critical challenge we are facing is our collective pull to judgment of others as opposed to empathy for others.”
Our profession is built on the premise that there will be disagreements and we can find constructive resolutions for them. And that’s why I believe that if we as lawyers lead with empathy, rather than judgment, we can build relationships premised on good will and trust in the good faith of others, even during disagreements.
There are, I recognize, powerful forces in our society that undermine trust and brew contempt for others. As a result, an essential challenge for our democratic republic is whether we can commit to certain foundational norms—including the pursuit of justice and the rule of law—to rebuild our basic systems of governance and to realize the ideals articulated by the founders, but never yet reached. As we work to meet those challenges, lawyers are positioned to play an essential role, both in our professional work and as leaders in our public dialogue. Thank you all for doing your part in that important work.
The full text of Attorney General Weiser’s remarks can be found here.