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Drake Law Review





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In this Article I explore the process of building and sustaining empathy with clients in the context of representing juvenile lifers-- people convicted of serious crimes as children and sentenced to life or sentences that ensure that they spend most of their lives in prison--in a law school clinic. Before turning to my own lawyering experiences and those of my clinic students, I ground the discussion of empathy in the competing theories of Charles Ogletree and Abbe Smith about the value of empathic lawyering for public defenders. These theories, together with the contributions of other scholars, provide a springboard for exploring the affective and cognitive dimensions of empathy.

Clinicstudent reflections-- about the role of race and identity in the practice of empathy, the close connection with clients that empathy makes possible but also the risk of emotional entanglements, the value of proximity, and the ability of empathy to reawaken the humanity that sometimes overlooked in the law school experiences-- arethe heart of this Article. Through the process of representing juvenile lifers, clinic students built fierce empathy in all of its forms: showing compassion, bridging difference, and displaying defiance. But they also struggled, as I have, with the question of boundaries in empathetic lawyering. I conclude with an unlikely symbol of hope-- a poem about Eric Garner, a Black man who died by police violence.



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