Thursday, January 13, 2011

SSRN's Top Article on Interviewing and Counseling

The all-time top hit (most downloads--757) on SSRN’s Rhetorical Theory eJournal is Jean Sternlight & Jennifer Robbennolt, “Good Lawyers Should Be Good Psychologists: Insights for Interviewing and Counseling Clients.” I guess this is where SSRN lists some lawyering skills articles. The article also appears in 23 Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution 437 (2008). Here is the abstract:

 To work effectively with clients, witnesses, judges, mediators, arbitrators, experts, jurors, and other lawyers, attorneys must have a good understanding of how people think and make decisions, and must possess good people skills. Yet, law schools have tended to teach very little, directly, about human behavior, and current critiques of legal education do not focus on the importance of psychological insights to attorneys. In particular, lawyers and legal education have not taken full advantage of the great strides that have been made in the field of scientific psychology in recent decades. Similarly, psychologists are not doing as much as they might to apply their discipline to all aspects of law. Law and psychology texts and courses often focus primarily on criminal rather than civil law and practice, and place their emphasis on the psychology of juries, eyewitness testimony, interrogation, and trials. This Article begins to fill some of the gaps that exist in the application of psychology to legal practice, focusing on psychological insights that are important to the endeavor of interviewing and providing initial counseling to clients in civil cases. Law students commonly graduate from law school understanding little if anything about perception, memory, communication, cognitive heuristics, or decision-making. While good lawyers ultimately pick up some of this information through experience, there is no reason to leave new lawyers to flounder based on a lack of understanding of these psychological principles. Further, even experienced lawyers can benefit from more explicit study of psychology. While the best lawyers may have intuited some of what will be discussed here, some of the findings are counterintuitive, and even experienced lawyers can improve their approach to interviewing and counseling by drawing on relevant psychology.

 Here is the roadmap paragraph at the end of Part I, the Introduction:

 First, in Part II, we will introduce a lawyer, Jack, whom we think would benefit from reading this Article. We will describe how Jack thinks about interviewing and counseling and provide a few examples of interviewing and counseling sessions he will soon conduct. Although Jack is not based on any single person, we suspect that many readers will recognize aspects of Jack in themselves or in students or lawyers whom they know. Part III will provide a review of some relevant psychology. Of course we will not cover all aspects of psychology or even all the nuances of the areas we review, but instead will focus on research we see as most pertinent to interviewing and counseling clients. As we discuss each topic we will provide a few applications, making suggestions or how Jack might interview and counsel his clients. Finally, in Part IV, we will offer a summary of some of the key insights psychology provides with respect to legal interviewing and counseling sessions.


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