It’s Not You It Is Me: A Lawyer’s Journey With Blame and Personal Responsibility By Pamela Michelle, J.D., M.S.
Law and principles of justice imply there are true victims and rightful blame. The civil justice system provides for financial compensation in the case of losses and quantifies much of the damages on the basis of suffering as in the case of personal injury claims. In Florida where I practice law, the state statute that pertains to automobile accidents requires “permanent injury” before pain and suffering damages can be awarded. In this regard, the more someone is a ‘victim’, the more the reward. Lawyers play a large role in assisting clients to determine the extent of their disability, dysfunction, and pain in a medical system that relies on subjective complaints as a relative determiner of the tests and treatments that will be recommended. Whether assisting those in personal injury or a marital dissolution, there is generally some theme of one party is more a victim in one sense or the other. I certainly believe the issue of blame is worth seriously considering in all types of cases and law practices given this state of being is arguably quite harmful to humans in the long run. In this sense, it certainly is worth asking some deeper questions to ourselves such as the following: Are lawyers re-victimizing clients in their work within a legal system that requires the perpetration of victim consciousness? If so, is this necessary and what are some of ramifications to both lawyers and clients?
‘Victim consciousness’ for purposes of this writing is a perspective based on a simple proposition that we are at the mercy of our life circumstances and others are responsible for our suffering. Personal responsibility is basically the opposite; that is, all life circumstances have to do with how we perceive and therefore respond to the world. Generally speaking it is as simple as this: we can think the world is doing something to us or we can understand we are the authors of our lives through our own projections, core beliefs, and assumptions or lack thereof about life. This does not mean to say there are not real causes of suffering but it allows us to take back our power to create the reality in which we wish to live and make meaning of any suffering.
Obviously, in some legal circumstances, there is a payoff for being a victim. In fact, as stated above, the more a victim, the bigger the payoff. How can a lawyer, who sees the potential harm in further disempowering a client through victim discussions and categorization, deal with this constructively and while still zealously representing a client? I will tell you it is a question that has been ‘burning’ for me for many years. As an advocate for clients and as an advocate for the soul development of all of my clients, I have developed the following dialogue with my clients which you may want to consider:
- I ask my clients to honestly assess their lives prior to the incident at issue and be very careful not to mix the difficulties of present with those of the past.
- I address any legal definitions with my clients as just that and remind them constantly that by meeting a legal definition such as that of disability, for example, they are not agreeing to live the rest of their lives by this moment in time.
- I ask my clients to explore their beliefs about life and to consider the meaning of the incident in terms of what was learned and can be learned and how this can be an empowering moment in their lives.
- I explore with my clients the concept of being a victim and discourage any activity that holds them back in their lives going forward and ask them never to make a choice for their lives due to a legal cause of action.
Ultimately, I believe that a lawyer may themselves lose connection with their soul in the perpetration of victim consciousness in that it requires one to take a position in the legal system that is not resonant on a soul level. Further, and this is the good news, it is not necessary to encourage victim consciousness in order to do a good job for your client. In fact, a lawyer may do a grave disservice to a client by entrenching them to a position and a self-image which pertains to them as a victim in that it not only impairs their ability to compromise and end a legal matter in their best interests, but does long term harm to the human potential that is to seek meaning and greater understanding of every challenge in life. By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we do in fact reduce our power to change them. There are many clients who are seeking a lawyer not to affirm them as a victim to their situation, but rather to make meaning and gain assistance in moving forward in their lives.
Pamela Michelle has been practicing law for 23 years and has her M.S. in Mental Health Counseling and is an ICF Certified Coach. Pam brings her insight and soul-centered process work to those in the legal profession who wish to gain more soul connection and fulfillment in their lives and careers. Pam can be contacted at Pam@SoulofLaw.com.