Got EQ?

There’s an inherent messiness in being alive, in being human, and in being in relationship with others and the world. Our life experience is a subjective journey into the unknown, riding on an emotional pendulum. Depending upon the circumstances of the year, month, day or even hour, we swing between joy and sorrow, adventure and routine, fulfillment and disappointment, and so on.

 In its origins, our legal system was designed to offer up a framework for dealing with our human messiness. It gives us rules and structures for resolving conflict, negotiating transactions, creating and dissolving marriages and businesses, driving without chaos, and much more. With that, our approach to training lawyers, the humans who run and work within this system, has been to focus solely on the rules side of the equation.

While there’s reasonable justification for this purely analytical training model, its one-sidedness has had unintended consequences for lawyers, their firms, their clients, their families and their friends.

Being human, for lawyers to be productive under the intense workloads and demands of practice, to remain emotionally stable and focused in high-pressure situations, to deal effectively with conflict, anxiety and vicarious trauma, and to be effective in dealing with clients, peers, colleagues, other professionals, government agencies, etc., lawyer training needs to extend well beyond research and case law to, at a minimum, include emotional intelligence skills training.

Success in legal practice depends in large part on our accurate understanding of ourselves, and the human seated opposite us. Emotional intelligence skills are readily learned and developed across a range of competencies that enable us to be more productive, less stressed and better advocates.  

Developing these skills can lead to a radical shift in success and satisfaction, professionally and personally.

 There are many ways to develop and enhance emotional intelligence.

Three EQ starter tips for 2021

Identify your values: Several studies conducted over the past two decades find that attorneys who align their values and their practice are more engaged, better able to establish trust with their clients and develop authentic, lasting relationships, the mainstays of a successful practice.

Values identification is a self-awareness competency.

Develop your listening skills: Lawyers are trained to have answers, so the tendency is to focus on solutions rather than the source or undercurrents of a client’s problem. Listening with all of our senses empowers attorneys to recognize a potential client’s motivation, accurately assess his credibility, clarify stated objectives, listen for leverage, gain new information, and assess what’s not being said, as well. Listening also reduces the risk of assumptions on the part of the attorney that lead to error. In tense situations, attentive listening has been shown to lower the blood pressure of both the speaker and the listener. This short Ted talk offers five simple exercises for better listening.

Listening is a relationship management tool, beneficial not only in client-directed interactions, but in difficult peer and staff interactions, as well.

 Mind your brain: Arguably, a lawyer’s brain is her most valuable asset. Just as our hearts require rest after a physical workout, our brains require rest after a mental workout—periodic breaks of nondirected thought, such as daydreaming, zoning out, letting one’s mind wander, or meditation. Numerous studies highlight that our brains need unfocused processing time to embed learning, improve memory, activate elevated thinking, stabilize emotions, and generate new brain cells. (Scrolling through social media is not a brain break.)

Brain rest is both a self- and other-awareness tool.

Our work is only as good as we feel, so taking simple steps to increase emotional intelligence is transformative for lawyers and the legal profession.