Cases involving complicated emotional circumstances, like the loss of a family member can be difficult. So can instances where the loss of fundamental necessities are on the line.
Jay Edelson, of Edelson PC, said he recalls a class action lawsuit nearly 12 years ago. Thousands of clients faced the loss of health insurance. Edelson, whose accolades include being named as one of last year’s top 100 lawyers by National Trial Lawyers as well as an Illinois Super Lawyer three years running, said sometimes clients can be self-serving, but in many instances people are just hopeful for justice.
The workers facing the loss of insurance were not vindictive, but were terrified they would be unable to pay for expensive medical procedures and surgeries if they could not retain their coverage. He said he, too, was under the gun, as he felt a personal responsibility to deliver for his clients.
“I never felt stress like that in my entire life,” he said. “I didn’t want to let anybody down.”
His clients were extremely upset, he said, and a website his firm set up allow the class to exchange information. Families used it to post comforting videos for one another.
“All people wanted to do was get their surgeries," he said. “It was not money driven. People were just scared.”
Eventually, he said, the judge granted an injunction saving the health insurance of his clients. He said the settlement came right down to the wire, as the judge needed additional information late in the proceedings. “We were moving as quickly as we could,” he said.
Some believe lawyers should be given more tools to deal with the emotional side of practicing and that there is an inherent psychological side of the legal profession that is largely overlooked.
Sara Martin, writing for the American Psychological Association Monitor cited psychologist Jennifer K. Robbennolt when she criticized the lack of law school preparation regarding student’s ability to understand human psychology. Robbennolt is a law and psychology professor at the University of Illinois College of Law who co-authored a book about ways lawyers could be more tuned-in to the psychological needs of their clients.
“Given that lawyers spend most of their time interviewing, counseling, negotiating with and trying to persuade other people, it is really important that they think about what the science says about how people think and behave and how that might inform the way they think about best practices,” Robbennolt told the APA.
The book, "Psychology for Lawyers: Understanding the Human Factors in Negotiation, Litigation, and Decision Making" was co-authored by Jean R. Sternlight, a law professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas Boyd School of Law, according to information the APA.
Edelson, who holds a philosophy degree from Brandeis University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, said there are some instances where a class action lawsuit may not be possible even though many people could be facing emotional distress.
He said, for example, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which has mysteriously been missing for days, may not yield a class action lawsuit because many countries do not have the same rules as the U.S. when it comes to events that affect a large number of people. He said countries like Israel and Australia are starting to adopt those rules, but they are not yet prolific in southeast Asia.
Dan Sabbatino is an award winning journalist whose accolades include a New York Press Association award for a series of articles he wrote dealing with a small upstate town’s battle over the implications of letting a “big-box” retailer locate within its borders. He has worked as a reporter and editor since 2007 primarily covering state and local politics for a number off publications.