Help With The Hard Stuff: Lawyers are Human, Too

Help With The Hard Stuff

Part 2 (of 10)Lawyers are Human, Too


I said in my last column, “You’re going to the lawyer to help you with solving a complex problem in an increasingly interconnected, unstable, and hopelessly complicated world – something lawyers can be very good at.” 

Notice I said lawyers can be very good at it, not that they always are good at it. It’s also true that lawyers can be not very good at helping you solve complex problems.

That’s because lawyers are human, just like everyone else. And, being human, they can be as prone to mistaken assumptions and wrong actions as anyone else. The key for you is to know and remember this and choose and work with your lawyer carefully.

Lawyers – the group you love to hate. You know the joke: Q. What do you call one lawyer on the bottom of the sea? A. A good start. 

There’s some real truth behind that sentiment. If you’ve dealt with lawyers in a disputed matter you might have good cause to despise them and your experience with legal process.

I’m a lawyer and some of my best friends are lawyers. At the same time, I really dislike and distrust some individual lawyers. That’s because lawyers are, in one way, just individuals trained and certified in certain aspects of the law and legal process.

Like all individuals working in any trade or profession, some are smart and others not so much so; some are experienced and others not; some are more mindful about their impact on others and some quite unmindful or just don’t care; and all can have good days and bad days. If it is your lawyer who is not so smart, or experienced, or mindful about the impact on you, or having a bad day, it’s you paying the price.

But in another way, lawyers actually are different from most of you (who are not lawyers). Some of these differences are very good for helping you, as we’ll talk about in a later column, but some differences may not help you solve your problem and may cause problems for you.

Law professor Susan Daicoff, after examining 40 years worth of empirical data on the personality of the typical lawyer and law student concluded that there is indeed a typical lawyer personality and that this personality explains in part both the up-until-recent success of lawyers within the profession and the complaints and jokes about lawyers.

She doesn’t mean MBTI® type but studies have also shown significant differences relating to such type characteristics between lawyers and the general population.

Further, she concluded that fully 20 percent of us attorneys are “walking wounded,” meaning working, functioning, and representing clients while being psychologically impaired enough that intervention is indicated. See Susan Swaim Daicoff’s book, Lawyer, Know Thyself: A Psychological Analysis of Personality Strengths and Weaknesses, American Psychological Association (2004).

Then there’s the factor that lawyers are experts, and experts tend to forget how much they learned in the process of becoming expert.

Such experts tend to talk to you in a language they understand but which you reasonably may understand quite differently.

That’s okay if you both confirm that you are on the same page, but the expert often does not think to confirm this, and you might find yourself feeling confused and stupid, or that you are not being listened to, or even that your goals are not understood. 

That’s not right and it also can put roadblocks in you and your lawyer working well together to solve your complex problem.

Don’t hate lawyers because they are human. Know they are individuals and choose your lawyer with the same care as you would use in choosing a spouse or a business partner.

Next: What role do you want your lawyer to have in helping you with your problem (hint: there are perhaps 10 different roles?)

Here’s the link to #1, Legal Process is All about Negotiation

Editor’s note: Look for “Help With The Hard Stuff” every second and fourth Thursday of the month in the Los Alamos Daily Post.

Gini Nelson, JD, MA has been practicing law since 1983. She’s a member of the State Bar of New Mexico’s Law Practice Management Committee, and the State of New Mexico’s First Judicial District Court’s Access to Justice Committee. Views expressed in the column are hers and not necessarily those of these Committees. This column is providing public information through the auspices of the Los Alamos Daily Post at and is not providing legal advice. Nothing in this column is intended to be an advertisement or solicitation of business. Ms. Nelson’s law office website is at If you have questions that might be of general interest if answered in this column, please send them to ©2013 Gini Nelson Law Office


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