By Nicole Garcia • October 28, 2016•Issues, Women and Law in the Media
For personal injury clients, finding the right lawyer to represent them is a high-stakes decision. Not only will the lawyer need to be proficient at representation, but the client expectation is that the counselor will truly advocate with compassion for their case.
Individual preferences aside, there are many reasons for clients to prefer the choice of a female lawyer for a personal injury case.
Injury Cases Involving Men: The Fear of Disclosure and the Appearance of Weakness
Despite the fact that legal counsel, regardless of gender, is in place to provide quality representation for the client, there are sociocultural factors that may predispose a level of comfort for men. As personal injury cases involve disclosure of pain, discomfort and impaired abilities, many male clients may feel more comfortable disclosing the full scope of their physical loss to a woman, rather than a man.
That is not to say that a female legal professional may be more nurturing than a male colleague in all cases, but there are some strengths and societal norms that can contribute to a feeling of ease. Male clients may have difficulty expressing psychological distress or trauma to another male.
In an article published in Psychology Today, titled “Men Feel Pain, Too” by Melody T. McCloud, M.D., the physician states that “men may not always verbalize—clearly or at all—their pain or discomfort, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel pain or discomfort. It’s important for doctors to recognize cases of male bravado and remember that men feel pain, too.” Dr. McCloud also explains that it relates to a fear of revealing emotions that may portray them as weak to others, but this fear is more pronounced when men may appear vulnerable in front of other men.
According to the Chicago Injury Center, male personal injury victims are more likely to:
- Downplay the severity of injuries.
- Refuse to report discomfort, pain or loss of ability to sustain activities of normal living.
- Self-limit the number, or severity, of physical impairments.
There are other considerations than ego and client perception, when it comes to a successful personal injury case. When a male client has been injured, and he is withholding the severity of pain and discomfort, he is likely to do so not only with his legal counsel, but also with therapists and treating physicians. This can limit the accuracy of the claim, by making it more difficult to judge the full extent of injury and disability, making it harder to legally represent the male client, and successfully win a settlement that is proportionate to their rehabilitative needs.
Why Female Lawyers May Have a Litigious Advantage
Without drawing on stereotypical and societal norms, there are ample clinical studies that support four key strengths that may give female lawyers a litigious advantage, when representing male or female personal injury clients.
The approach for a female counselor may be quite different. Male colleagues involved in personal injury cases may be vigilantly focused on building the case, the details and circumstances of the loss, and the potential settlement amount that could be reached. This “big game hunting” style of personal injury representation is common with both male and female legal professionals, but when the client is a man, the “macho” approach is more likely.
The problem is that despite cultural expectations, men who have become injured, disabled or those who have suffered emotional trauma need to be coached through many aspects of grief. Physical loss is equivalent to losing someone you care about, and deeply personal. Women can be more skilled at extending compassion and empathy during difficult conversations.
Some of the best personal injury lawyers (male or female) are those that were involved in an accident, or experienced loss of a loved one in a personal injury circumstance. Tipping to cultural and societal norms, a female lawyer is more likely to be personally invested in a personal injury case, and advocate strongly for an injured client, while maintaining a protective and supportive professional relationship.
The sincerity of this nurturing effect has also helped many female lawyers to effectively communicate the pain and suffering of their client in court. They are also more likely to make medical accommodations for their client, including assistance with transportation or other logistic needs.
It would be offensive to imply that male lawyers are not able to listen to their clients; it is a skill that all legal advocates require. However, there are different levels of ‘listening’ and clients have many different styles of sharing, or recounting their personal injury or accident details.
Specifically, if the client is comfortable with a story-telling style, where every detail is shared, female lawyers can be more patient and supportive. It is important to remember that emotionality is a factor that complicates memory and recall of a physical trauma, and in personal injury cases, the details of the accident and post-injury treatment may have to be documented over several meetings with the client. Collecting the details, or remaining patient while many details are repeated (as is often the case with emotionally traumatized individuals) is a strength that many female attorneys demonstrate.
From the client side, a personal injury case can feel punitive, accusatory and almost criminal in many ways. The intrusion on a client’s life when proceeding through an injury case can exacerbate physical symptoms by increasing stress, and impair memory and recollection. In very severe cases of personal injury, the client may even withdraw from communication, or repress details due to emotional trauma.
Male and female counselors are trained to look for subliminal messaging, including intonation, physical cues and body language. In several clinical studies, women have been found to more accurately detect and translate body language, and the emotional content of verbal and physical cues. The same studies report that women are also faster at translating non-verbal messages.
The successful management of a personal injury case requires that the legal professional establish a relationship with the client that is based on trust, particularly given the amount of vulnerability associated with a long-term disability. Female legal professionals should not hesitate to promote gender related suitability to personal injury law, and present the many advantages of hiring a female lawyer in similar cases.