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'Feeling like a sponge': the emotional labour produced by solicitors in their interactions with clients seeking asylum

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Immigration solicitors working within the field of asylum law are required to deal directly with asylum applicants in their everyday work. They are, therefore, expected to perform emotional labour as part of their job. This small empirical study focuses on pre-substantive meetings of solicitors with clients, analysing the form and extent of the emotional labour produced, its origins, and the potential negative and positive consequences resulting from that performance. Following a brief overview of emotional labour, the research methods will be outlined. The findings, which result from the analysis of interviews, show that this is a highly specialised job involving the performance of diverging emotional displays. Intense emotional displays of empathy are expected to gain the trust of clients. However, these emotions have to be managed to maintain the perceived professional integrity of the solicitor. This is achieved by concentrating on the legal aspects of the case to present a form of 'detached concern'. This enables the task to be completed efficiently, as well as fulfilling the emotional demands of the job. However, balancing these different emotional displays can be hard work, and can lead to less experienced solicitors admitting reliance on surface acting to present expected emotional displays. This often results in emotional dissonance producing negative consequences such as decreased task efficiency, stress and depression. The paper concludes with a discussion of the findings and proposals for future research. The importance of performing emotional labour is highlighted. Focus is also placed on the professional socialisation of immigration solicitors, and specifically the training undertaken. It is suggested that more explicit training in emotion management skills might ameliorate the potentially negative consequences of performing emotional labour. Following this will be a brief discussion of future research to be undertaken.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK

Publication date: 2010-07-01

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