The Mother Law: Stop Talking and Listen
By Jenifer Ross-Amato
I completely disagree with the notion that when I am with my kids I add nothing to my skills as a lawyer, or vice versa. That is just flat out wrong. Lawyers and mothers have something fundamental in common that, when we see ourselves in that role, makes us better lawyers and mothers.
Lawyers are the gatekeepers of civil justice because their expertise increases their clients’ access to the legal system. An experienced lawyer significantly increases the chances of a litigant's success. Why is having a lawyer so significant? Lawyers translate the hidden language of the courthouse, filtering information about complex legal rules and principles. Even more importantly, lawyers understand complex relationships between lawyers, judges and litigants. Put simply, lawyers know what judges want to hear and they use their relationships with others - usually lawyers - to gain leverage and resolve cases. 
Mothers are no less the gatekeepers for their children’s access to the larger world. A caring and involved mother can significantly increase a child’s chances of success in life. Just like in the legal system, mothers help their children understand and navigate the world.
Consequently, mother-lawyers are natural advocates, advisors and counselors. The skills they use in one world easily transfer to the other. A mother-lawyer colleague of mine who practices employment law described a situation in which her skills in listening to and de-escalating “hot” clients helped her as a mother:
[My] son was very unhappy about how another kid at school was treating him. We talked about possible solutions. The next time it happened he ‘used his words.’ When he came home he was so excited that he knew what to do. I was excited that rather than directing him, I listened, made suggestions, and let him do it.
The skills mothers use to listen, empathize and advise their children just as easily apply when they do the same for their legal clients. Several years ago I had a client who - unintentionally - had failed to disclose some emails, and he was particularly distraught about the possibility of losing our legal case and facing possible sanctions. He turned to me and asked tearfully, "Am I going to get fired?" I told him that no, we would get through this together and we did, avoiding sanctions and resolving the case.
Of course, not all lawyers have these skills. There will always be patronizing lawyers. And not all mothers do either. There will always be judgmental mothers. But the best lawyers and the best mothers cultivate their empathic listening skills because it encourages cooperation and trust. Justin Ross, a family law attorney in Colorado wrote an interesting piece about reassuring clients. He advised telling each client that "it is going to be okay" and emphasizing that the legal process is designed to provide justice and fairness. This reassurance comes naturally to mothers, whether it is the secret hug I gave my son as I sent him off to school or my colleague’s pride in having given her son the skills to solve his own problem.
It is so easy for mother-lawyers to feel pulled in opposite directions, which often results in guilt that we no longer do anything well. But at least in some instances, we are being pulled in the same direction – and it is a good direction to be going.
A mother and real estate lawyer told me that when she became a better listener, she became a better lawyer: "I used to be afraid to use my intuition, or to be quiet, feeling instead like I would not be perceived as valuable if I was not constantly taking an aggressive or at least a vocal stance." What she learned, she said, was that lawyers - and mothers - do much better when they stop talking and listen.
1. William L.F. Felstiner, Richard L. Abel & Austin Sarat, The Emergence and Transformation of Disputes: Naming, Blaming, Claiming . . ., 15 LAW & SOC. R. 631, 645 (1980-1981).
2. Stephen Daniels & Joanne Martin, Texas Plaintiffs’ Practice in the Age of Tort Reform: Survival of the Fittest – It’s Even More True Now, 51 N.Y.L. Sch. L. Rev. 286, 319-320 (2006-2007).
3. Lynn Mather, Dispute Processing and a Longitudinal Approach to Trial Courts, 24 Law & Soc’y Rev. 357, 362 (1990) (defining lawyers as specialists in the language of the law); Gillian Hadfield, Don’t Forget the Lawyers, 56 DePaul L. Rev. 401, 405-06 (2006-2007).
4. See Abraham S. Blumberg, The Practice of Law as Confidence Game: Organizational Cooptation of a Profession, 1 Law & Soc’y Rev. 15, 20 (1966-1967).