Lawyer as Emotional Laborer

Prevailing norms of legal practice teach lawyers to detach their independent moral judgments from their professional performance-to advocate zealously for their clients while remaining morally unaccountable agents of those clients’ causes. Although these norms have been subjected to prominent critiques by legal ethicists, this Article analyzes them instead through the lens of “emotional labor,” a sociological theory positing that workers required to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance mandated by organizational rules face substantial psychological risks. By subordinating their personal feelings and values to displays of zealous advocacy on behalf of others, lawyers, too, may face acute psychological distress and professional dissatisfaction; ironically, legal practice norms may place the heftiest psychological burden on those lawyers most oriented toward justice. This Article explores several potential antidotes to the deleterious effects of emotional labor on legal practitioners, including: (1) deep acting, or the process by which a person attempts to experience the emotions that she is expected to display (effectively, the antithesis of detachment); (2) self-selection into (or out of) the legal profession based on certain personality traits, or self-selection into certain work environments based on one’s personal values; and (3) a shift in the standard conception of the lawyer’s role toward greater moral autonomy for lawyers. Empirical researchers are called upon to generate data suggesting how best to alleviate lawyers’ emotional labor without entirely eliminating the potential usefulness of emotional labor as a check on unethical conduct in legal practice.