Using a Communication Perspective to Teach Relational Lawyering

43 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2014 Last revised: 16 Oct 2015

See all articles by Susan L. Brooks

Susan L. Brooks

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law

Date Written: October 13, 2015


In today’s brave new world of legal education, many of us are redefining our goals as educators to include relational competencies, such as empathy, self-awareness, listening skills, and practical judgment. Recent developments affecting legal education support a growing recognition of a need for teaching relational skills as part of a push for more practical skills training. Many law schools are reforming their curriculum to include core courses aimed at teaching relational skills, such as self-awareness, collaboration, and teamwork. Outside of legal education, the fundamental importance of these skills is even more well-established. A recent article in Forbes Magazine touts empathy as the most important skill that employers will be seeking by the year 2020. So, now the big questions are: can we actually teach empathy and other relational skills? And if so, what does it look like to teach them in law school? This article offers affirmative and creative responses to these questions. It builds on my two decades of work as a law teacher and scholar that is grounded in prior professional training and experience as a social worker. The work I have done thus far reaffirms three fundamental beliefs: (1) relational lawyering is teachable and learnable; (2) effective lawyering is as much, if not more, about relationships, as it is about outcomes; and (3) lawyers with strong relational skills are likely to be happier and more satisfied with their careers.

So, how can we teach a relational approach to lawyering? One useful and promising approach is what I am calling a communication perspective. This article describes a communication perspective and demonstrates how to use communication as a vehicle for teaching relational skills in several different contexts, including dedicated courses and pervasively throughout law schools.

Keywords: legal education, interpersonal skills, relational skills, communication, emotional intelligence, wellbeing, resilience, self-awareness, dialogue, therapeutic jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Brooks, Susan L., Using a Communication Perspective to Teach Relational Lawyering (October 13, 2015). Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 15, 2015, Drexel University School of Law Research Paper No. 2015-A-06, Available at SSRN:

Susan L. Brooks (Contact Author)

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law ( email )

3320 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States


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