The Florida Bar

Florida Bar News

Be a Perceptive Lawyer

Special to the News Columns

For lawyers, perspective is not a one-size-fits-all concept. We must strive to be open-minded in our ability to see how others see an issue from where they are standing, adapting our understanding to the unique circumstances of each case.

Jim Vickaryous

Jim Vickaryous

Perspective matters. Skiing out West with my family, a heavy snowfall ended a bluebird day. I stopped on the slope to get my bearings and wait for my family. In the mountain silence I could hear the snowflakes fall on the snowpack. In the solitude, I heard the scurrying of a small animal. At the tips of my skis, an ermine was looking up at me. It had a large vole in its mouth. Just as surprised as me with our chance mountain encounter, the ermine dropped the freshly killed vole, and scurried across the snowy slope to the shelter of an ancient ponderosa pine. Next to the ponderosa, the snow-white ermine stared at the lifeless vole in front of me. The ermine charged across the slope toward me, stood on its hind legs, looked straight into my eyes, and let out a fierce growl. It grabbed the vole in its mouth and ran back into the ponderosa forest with dinner for its family.

My perspective that wintery day was to have some mountain fun with my family. I was not worried about survival or from where dinner was coming. The ermine’s sole perspective was survival. Listening to its high-pitched growl, I could tell it was enraged that I had momentarily taken its prey. We both went on with our day. Me to a warm fire and a stiff drink, the ermine to its warren to feast on the vole. I surmise it was a win-win for both of us. Our paths had crossed with extremely different perspectives, and somehow, we both figured out how to peacefully get on with our plans.

In the legal world, where disputes emerge and the pursuit of justice takes center stage, perspective is an essential skill. Lawyers must recognize that their success not only hinges on legal acumen but also on their ability to perceive their own and other’s differing perspectives. Let’s shed some light on the importance of being a perceptive lawyer and the symbiotic relationship between perception and perspective. Perceiving each person’s perspective greatly increases a lawyer’s skill and value. After all, by comprehending the differing perspectives that all people have when dealing with an issue, a lawyer might just get everyone what they want — a true win-win solution.

Perspective, in the legal realm, extends beyond merely acknowledging that everyone has a different way of seeing things. It shows a deep understanding of how friends and foes actually see an issue from their point of view. A perceptive lawyer appreciates that every case involves an interplay of different perspectives — those of clients, opposing parties, witnesses, judges, and the court itself. These perspectives, collectively, form the backdrop against which legal battles unfold.

Perspective is even more important in relationships that are not adversarial. As lawyers, we must be attuned to perspective. Knowing where you stand and the perspective of your colleagues and loved ones can give you the understanding that not only helps to predict outcomes, but comprehending others’ underlying reasons, motivations, and values. Deep perception of everyone’s perspectives creates win-win situations often without anyone knowing other than you. Creating harmony without anyone realizing that you drafted the music is the best harmony there is.   However, most people recognize that you are trying to see things their way, even though you really don’t. They appreciate the thoughtfulness. I know I do, even if it does not go my way.

Perception, the ability to interpret and make sense of information, is the foundation upon which effective legal representation is built.  However, perception is not isolated, rather it is intimately intertwined with the theme of perspective. A lawyer’s perception is shaped not only by their own understanding but also by their acknowledgment and appreciation of the perspectives that surround a case. After all, most solutions are not entirely what we initially envisioned. The best solutions have more than one cook. To have a more realistic vision of a legal solution, it is good to anticipate the differing perspectives and incorporate them from the beginning.

For lawyers, perspective is not a one-size-fits-all concept. We must strive to be open-minded in our ability to see how others see an issue from where they are standing, adapting our understanding to the unique circumstances of each case. This adaptability is especially crucial when dealing with an array of different clients, each with their own backgrounds, values, and expectations.

The perceptive lawyer has developed the skill of empathetic understanding. This is especially true when dealing with another party whose perspective is survival. As lawyers, we do our best to look at our craft dispassionately to render the best advice and service to our clients. We don’t often practice law from the perspective of pure survival. However, our clients or adversaries often think only of their survival. It’s not right or wrong, it’s simply their perspective. It can be difficult dealing with a client or opposing party that has the perspective that they either win or they are damned. Like my run-in with the hungry ermine, recognizing this chasm of perspectives creates the distance needed to be a dispassionate and most effective counselor. It is a reminder that the pursuit of justice is not a solitary endeavor, rather it requires collaboration, compromise, and the ability to bridge gaps between opposing perspectives.

Being perceptive of others’ perspectives is essential, however it is equally important for a lawyer to engage in introspection — to understand and evaluate their own perspective. This self-awareness allows lawyers to navigate potential biases, ethical dilemmas, and personal beliefs that may impact their ability to objectively represent their clients. It’s acceptable to have a different perspective than everyone around you. After all, that is the essence of your being. Just don’t get into the habit of thinking that everyone’s perspective should be just like yours. That creates a bore of a lawyer and stunted advocate.

Introspection is not a sign of weakness but a testament to a lawyer’s commitment to moral values and ethical principles. It enables lawyers to question their own assumptions, continually refine their understanding of justice, and ensure that their actions align with the highest standards of professional conduct.

A perceptive lawyer understands that perspective is not a rigid roadmap but a flexible tool that can be adjusted and refined as the case unfolds. Each case is unique and dynamic, therefore prospective serves as a guiding light for lawyers. It helps them anticipate challenges, identify opportunities for resolution, and craft strategies that align with the overarching principles of justice.

Being perceptive about other people’s perspective, and especially our own perspective, is critical to understanding others. Being a perceptive lawyer is not a mere choice but a moral imperative. Recognizing your own perspective and that of others is a kind of wisdom. Understanding the symbiotic relationship between perception and perspective is essential for effective legal representation that is grounded in ethical values and principles. As lawyers, let us commit to embracing diverse perspectives, cultivating introspection, and navigating the intricate legal landscape with a keen eye for justice and a heart for empathy. By doing so, we contribute not only to the success of our clients but to the overarching goal of a just and equitable society. Figure out a way to let the hungry ermines in your life go their way so you can enjoy your warm fire on a cold night. Let’s all resolve to be perceptive lawyers.

Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors. 


News in Photos


Be An Encouraging Lawyer

Columns | Jul 08, 2024

Warning signs of mental Illness

Columns | Jul 03, 2024

Mindfulness, errors and omissions of attention

Columns | Jul 01, 2024

Be a Judicial Lawyer

Columns | Jun 05, 2024