Empathy: an essential element of legal practice or ‘never the twain shall meet’?

Westaby, Chalen and Jones, Emma (2018). Empathy: an essential element of legal practice or ‘never the twain shall meet’? International Journal of the Legal Profession, 25(1) pp. 107–124.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09695958.2017.1359615


In a climate where the work of the legal profession is changing and evolving rapidly, this article considers the potential for empathy to be incorporated as an essential element of legal practice. This challenges the conceptions of legal practice held by many legal professionals and law students but draws on increasing scientific evidence demonstrating the interaction between cognition and affect and reflects the emotional realities of life in practice. This article will consider the different definitions of empathy and argue that it is necessary for it to be conceptualised in a way which draws upon both cognitive and affective elements. When empathy is interpreted in this way it can provide both a more effective form of practice and a deeper appreciation of ethics and values. This article will argue that to incorporate empathy in this way requires a richer, more nuanced consideration of the benefits and challenges involved in its use. However, embedding it throughout legal education, training and legal practice would more than reward such a careful evaluation of its role.

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