There is a growing preference in today’s technology-saturated society for online interaction via email, text messages, social networks, and instant messaging, rather than real-world interaction through face-to-face or telephonic conversations. For today’s young people—the Digital Generation—this is more than a mere preference; it is a way of life. Research indicates that the movement toward virtual communication comes with negative consequences, such as poor real-world communication skills and underdeveloped social skills. Most significantly, research suggests that the Digital Generation are less empathic than elder generations are. Some researchers speculate that the rising prominence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in everyday life may have contributed to the Digital Generation’s decreased empathy.
Today’s young ICT devotees are tomorrow’s future legal professionals. And when the Digital Generation enter legal practice they will find it entails far more than just reading cases and spotting issues. They will be called upon to counsel, to advocate, to persuade, and to adjudicate. To succeed in legal practice the Digital Generation will need strong empathic abilities. There are clear negative implications for the legal profession’s future if successful legal practice requires particular interpersonal skills but ICT usage is preventing the Digital Generation from developing these skills.
This article analyzes social science literature regarding declining empathy, the Digital Generation, and technology. It establishes the importance of empathy in legal practice and examines prior suggestions for improving the legal profession’s historically fraught relationship with empathy. It then proposes new strategies to reverse this empathy decline so the Digital Generation may become successful legal practitioners despite—or perhaps even because of—their use of ICTs.
Lauren Newell, Rebooting Empathy for the Digital Generation Lawyer, 34 Ohio St. J. Disp. Resol. 1 (2019).