Empathy Is at the Core of What We Do

October 10, 2017

Attorney at Law Magazine featured Deanna and Doug Brocker as Attorneys of the Month in the October edition. Read the article below or click here to read the magazine.

“…I just feel like kindness and empathy, in addition to trying to steer them on the right course, is what they need.”

You’d want Deanna or Doug Brocker at your side if you ever get in trouble and are sent to the principal’s office.

The husband and wife are the principals at Raleigh-based Brocker Law Firm. The firm represents lawyers, doctors, CPAs, Realtors, insurance agents, therapists, and various other professionals in matters involving ethics violations. Doug also represents the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners.

Doug served as trial and UPL counsel for The North Carolina State Bar for more than six years, where he investigated and prosecuted disciplinary violations, the unauthorized practice of law, and other similar matters. Deanna served as assistant ethics counsel for the State Bar for over 10 years.

The firm’s clients generally follow one of two paths to its door – either to get advice to avoid an ethics violation or after they have been cited for an ethics violation and need representation in front of a professional licensing board.

Deanna’s focus is primarily drafting attorney grievance responses and ethics counseling. Doug is the litigator.

“Part of the reason folks come to me is because they want to talk out an ethics issue that is a gray area, it’s nuanced. I love that back and forth and talking through complex situations. It’s almost like detective work. I’m asking questions and we are trying to work out the ethics issues,” said Deanna.

“Good professional people do things that violate rules and sometimes they do things they really shouldn’t have done, but it doesn’t make them terrible people or terrible professionals. We’re dealing in that gray area where we’ve got someone who committed a violation or did something wrong but the essential question is, what’s the appropriate thing to do with respect to protecting the public,” said Doug.

“When a client appears before a professional board, our goal is to put our clients in a much better position with respect to their licenses than they would be without us,” said Doug. “but sometimes, success may not be a matter of walking out with a unblemished license for our clients. Frankly, some of our clients don’t need to have a clean outcome. They need to be under some restrictions for their own sake.”

Kindness and Empathy

“I have clients that come to me and are in such a state of despair and I really feel that. Sometimes they’re depressed that they’ve done something wrong and that is just tearing them apart. They don’t know what to do and they’re desperate. I just feel like kindness and empathy, in addition to trying to steer them on the right course, is what they need,” said Deanna.

“Empathy is the most important attribute for a lawyer who does what we do. The clients want to know that we care about them and that we understand where they’re coming from; empathy is at the core of what we do,” said Doug.

“It’s very emotionally stressful for me to represent a professional client. I enjoy doing it,” said Doug, “but I feel the weight of everything that’s going to happen. I feel a huge responsibility if we take on a professional client and their license and their livelihood are on the line. The weight of something really bad happening to that person is crushing at times.”

“I think the reason both of us are drawn to this practice area is that character and integrity are really important to us. One of the things that gets me really worked up is when people are being untruthful with me. I don’t like it from a client and I don’t like it from the other side,” explained Doug. “If I feel like there’s somebody who is just trying to get by, get past something they’ve done without taking responsibility, I have a difficult time representing that person; life is too short for that.

“My values come into play in terms of who I am willing to represent,” Doug continued. “If I feel like I’ve got somebody who is honest and who has integrity, but has made a mistake, I’m willing to advocate for them. I want to actually be looking eye-to-eye with that person, looking at their body language, and getting a personal sense of whether this is somebody that I can spend 50 or 100 hours really putting my heart and soul into defending.”

Virtual Law Firm

“When I worked at a large law firm and did mostly civil litigation, I spent a lot of time chasing rabbits and I didn’t care for it. I saw a lot of client money being spent on what I considered nonsense,” recalled Doug.

When he launched the firm in the summer of 2006 and Deanna joined a few months later, they agreed on creating a virtual law firm. Changes in technology allowed them to just need a place for a law firm administrator and a conference room for client meetings. Most everything else done by the four-attorney firm is done virtually. “We’ve been able to do everything we need to represent clients zealously with our virtual arrangement – without all the additional expenses of a traditional law office.”

“Our goal is to keep overhead low,” said Doug. “A lot of our clients are paying out of their pockets so we need to be as lean as we can be for people to afford our representation.”

Gray Areas

“The older I get, the more gray I see, and I see very little black and white,” said Doug.

“If you are talking about somebody who has done something and the State Bar or other licensing board doesn’t have a clear prohibition or restriction concerning the conduct, generally it’s our position that if you tell us that’s wrong, our client won’t do it again, but you really shouldn’t be disciplining him or her if it wasn’t clear they shouldn’t be doing that,” said Doug

Because of the fluidity of legal marketing Doug and Deanna hold CLEs and speak to groups like the Raleigh Legal Marketing Association.

“Online advertising and social media are areas that are constantly evolving, but the rules of professional conduct remain relatively static. The lawyers who most often get in trouble with legal advertising are those who are creative, think outside the box, and seek to push the limits. The legal advertising rules tend to promote vanilla, uninteresting marketing materials,” said Deanna.

“We tell professionals ‘No, you can’t do that,’ nearly every day. It doesn’t matter whether they are friends, clients or colleagues. It’s not our job to tell clients what they want to hear but to give them sound and safe advice. At the same time, we like to brainstorm with clients about alternatives, or offer ethical ways to achieve the desired result, if possible,” added Deanna.

Wanderlust

Doug, Deanna and sons J.P., 19, and Luke, 17, are frequent travelers. “We love to travel and we make it a huge priority. It’s great because we get to spend time exclusively with our kids,” said Doug.

Doug, a cancer survivor, said, “Part of my philosophy is, I don’t know if there is a tomorrow, so if I can do it now and it’s feasible, I’m going to do it. That’s pretty critical to my outlook on things.”

Costa Rica, Hawaii, Alaska, Western and Eastern Europe, Mediterranean, Baltics, Rome, Athens, Turkey and most recently Iceland are but a few places they have visited. “Getting away from the stress of work is not the primary reason we like to travel. We are attracted to the experience,” explained Deanna.

“America is a great country, but we want the boys to learn and see people are doing other great things differently and doing things well in other countries,” said Deanna. “We try to learn about the local culture by trying to hook up with a local when we get there. We mix outdoor experiences, churches, history, antiquities, and architecture because of our sons who have differing interests.”

We Have to Laugh

In person, Doug and Deanna are warm, personable and easily given to laughter. “I love to laugh … I laugh at him,” giggled Deanna. “I’m not particularly funny,” added Doug. “I love to laugh but I’m not a joke teller. Considering the stress of the cases we deal with, we have to laugh – otherwise we’d go crazy. Sometimes we just have to laugh at some of the ill-advised things clients do.”

Living a balanced life is high on the couple’s list of priorities. “We like being the masters of our fates,” said Deanna.

“We try to turn off shop talk during dinner. Our sons get really irritated when we sit around the dinner table debating issues of professional ethics,” said Doug. “I’m afraid we are not always able to turn it off when we go home.”

“I’m failing in that miserably,” added Deanna. “Luckily, Doug and I get along wonderfully all the time. I know that sounds weird, but we really don’t argue about much of anything. It’s nice to have somebody who understands exactly what you do every day.”

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