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(Williams + 2016)

A psychometric appraisal of the Jefferson Scale of Empathy using law students

  • Williams B, 
  • Sifris A, 
  • Lynch M


Background: A growing body of literature indicates that empathic behaviors are positively linked, in several ways, with the professional performance and mental well-being of lawyers and law students. It is therefore important to assess empathy levels among law students using psychometrically sound tools that are suitable for this cohort.

Participants and methods: The 20-item Jefferson Scale of Empathy – Health Profession Students Version was adapted for a law context (eg, the word “health care” became “legal”), and the new Jefferson Scale of Empathy – Law Students (JSE-L-S) version was completed by 275 students at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Data were subjected to principal component analysis.

Results: Four factors emerged from the principal component analysis (“understanding the client’s perspective”, “responding to clients’ experiences and emotions”, “responding to clients’ cues and behaviors”, and “standing in clients’ shoes”), which accounted for 46.7% of the total variance. The reliability of the factors varied, but the overall 18-item JSE-L-S yielded a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of 0.80. Several patterns among the item loadings were similar to those reported in studies using other versions of the Jefferson Scale of Empathy.

Conclusion: The JSE-L-S appears to be a reliable measure of empathy among undergraduate law students, which could help provide insights into law student welfare and future performance as legal practitioners. Additional evaluation of the JSE-L-S is required to disambiguate some of the minor findings explored. Adjustments may improve the psychometric properties.


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