American corporations have long realized the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) in assessing potential employees. Law firms have lagged behind in recognizing that emotional savvy can enhance intellectual functioning. Traditionally the decision on who should be invited into a partnership is based mainly on law school performance at a top-notch school. Getting the smartest, most successful law school graduate has heavily outweighed other criteria.
Research in both neuroscience and psychology suggests that law firms should take the cue from corporate America and factor in emotional savvy when making partnership decisions. Yale researchers John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey published a formal definition of EI in 1990. Their conclusion was that combining emotions and cognition results in the best decision-making process. In 1995, emotional intelligence got a boost from the popular book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ.” It was about this time that corporations began to seriously factor in EI to their hiring practices.
What Is EI?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of emotions both in yourself and in others. Further, people with EI are able to assess these emotions appropriately and to understand how to use this information to react and move forward in emotional situations.
Look to the lawyer in your firm who gains strong loyalty from clients, associates and staff for someone who potentially has EI. Look also to the lawyer who is the go-to person when colleagues are looking for help with personal issues and conflicts. The lawyer with the high EI can listen to and accept criticism and truly hear what you are saying. These are the lawyers in your firm who have that extra something that may be irreplaceable. For example, a Workers Compensation lawyer who is able to empathize with a worker from a blue-collar job environment will be able to quickly earn the trust of machinist who is badly injured. Who better to put on a case when a good Social Security Disability lead come in than an attorney who can deeply relate to the challenges of disabled people who can no longer work.
Productivity Is Enhanced
Unfortunately, high IQ does not necessarily mean high productivity. Harvard studies show that the ability to work well with people can be more critical than other factors, including job experience, intelligence, and decisiveness. A vital trait of a good lawyer is the ability to assess a situation quickly and accurately. Emotional intelligence helps people to make these kinds of assessments. In fact, EI may be more important to workplace success than intelligence and expertise combined. These factors argue for hiring law firm partners who have high emotional intelligence because they will be the strongest performers and add the most to the firm.
Developing Strong Client Relationships
The relationship a client has with a law firm has to include an exceptional level of trust. A recent survey done by In-House Counsel Magazine reported that two of the major reasons companies fire outside counsel are responsiveness and personality issues. A partner with high emotional intelligence is more able to operate successfully on an interpersonal level. These lawyers can identify client values, listen to client concerns, and build a loyal relationship with the client.
How to Build an Effective Team
The more emotionally intelligent partners in a firm, the more likely it is that the firm as a whole will form an emotionally intelligent team. The move towards expanding the use of teams in law firms has resulted in happier clients because of the more personal touch that clients receive. A smaller, focused group of team members means that clients have more direct access to law firm personnel. In conjunction with this, law partners who work on teams report more job satisfaction and this can translate into dedicated and harder working teams. Putting teams together with an eye to EI can make these teams even more effective.
While being an excellent lawyer with excellent skills is essential in a new partner, firms that stress emotional intelligence in their hiring can take the lead in the global legal market.
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