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Good Lawyers Should Be Good Psychologists: Insights for Interviewing and Counseling Clients


Jean R. Sternlight


University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law

Jennifer K. Robbennolt


University of Illinois College of Law

May 5, 2008

Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Vol. 23, p. 437, 2008
UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-24
U Illinois Law & Economics Research Paper No. LEC08-024

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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 113

Keywords: psychology, interviewing, counseling

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Date posted: May 5, 2008 ; Last revised: July 21, 2008

Suggested Citation

Sternlight, Jean R. and Robbennolt, Jennifer K., Good Lawyers Should Be Good Psychologists: Insights for Interviewing and Counseling Clients (May 5, 2008). Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Vol. 23, p. 437, 2008; UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-24; U Illinois Law & Economics Research Paper No. LEC08-024. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1127724

Contact Information

Jean R. Sternlight (Contact Author)
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )
4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States
Jennifer K. Robbennolt
University of Illinois College of Law ( email )
504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
217-333-6623 (Phone)
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