The economy has forced legal professionals to review long-standing institutional approaches to recruiting and retaining the next generation of lawyers. Recently, the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) has garnered increased attention, especially as it relates to legal recruitment.
While intelligence, education and experience commonly were given the greatest weight when recruiting, research increasingly has shown that a candidate's emotional intelligence is the key determinant of professional success.
To be a successful attorney in this economy, it is imperative to not only be an expert in a legal field, but to also offer superlative client service and maintain client relationships.
To identify future lawyers who will be able to build these strong client relationships, law firms are beginning to focus on assessing candidates' EI.
Emotional intelligence is defined in many different ways. One definition offered by R.K. Cooper in "Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations" is "the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence."[FOOTNOTE 1]
While there are many other definitions, most can agree that social and emotional competencies, such as being flexible, adaptable, creative, empathetic, self-aware, optimistic, confident and self-motivated, and the ability to persevere, exert self-control, display good judgment, influence and get along with others, form the fundamentals of EI.
In an effort to meet growing market and client demands over the last few months, law school and law firm leaders convened for several roundtable discussions to explore new methods in law firm recruiting.[FOOTNOTE 2] The weak economy was not the only issue that prompted discussions.
For many years the firms have been frustrated by the usual hiring process, which requires them to make offers to students two years ahead of their start date and without full knowledge of what a candidate's level of proficiency will be upon graduation. [FOOTNOTE 3]
Although discussions brought very little change to the current recruiting model, there was a consensus among attendees that law students need to recognize the importance of developing strong interpersonal skills in order to be recognized as high performers during the recruitment process.
As the economy slowly recovers, the legal job market will continue to be tight and legal employers will look to fill their needs with candidates who can operate effectively and efficiently as professionals.
EI AND SUCCESS
According to Daniel Goleman, a top researcher and writer on emotional intelligence, on average, close to 90 percent of high performers' success in leadership is attributable to emotional intelligence.
He says: "For star performance in all jobs, in every field, emotional competence is twice as important as purely cognitive abilities."[FOOTNOTE 4]
While a top ranked law school may look good on a resume, it certainly does not guarantee success. EI is now seen as a better predictor of success than IQ.
Many other industries administer assessment tests to determine a candidate's emotional intelligence and rely heavily on that assessment.
At the moment, most legal employers do not administer such tests. As a result it's essential that they pre-determine core competencies that are fundamental to their organization and meeting the needs of their clients. The firms then must educate their interviewers on how to identify whether a potential candidate possesses emotional intelligence, or has the ability to acquire it. It has been shown that EI can be learned.
SHOW YOURS IN INTERVIEWS
There are several opportunities during the legal recruiting process to connect with potential employers and show that you possess strong EI. During the interview it's likely that there will be more hypothetical questions geared towards eliciting a candidate's level of professionalism and how he or she would approach a problem. Listen carefully and try to connect with the interviewer. It's important to tune into an interviewer's personality and adapt to that individual's style.
However, proactively manage the interview and make sure that you have conveyed certain experiences and abilities. If this is done in an appropriate way, an interviewer will appreciate your confidence and ability to lead the meeting.
Successful practicing attorneys, even at a junior level, must be able to work with people with different management styles and to lead. Look for opportunities to highlight past experiences that demonstrate your competence in areas like communication, conflict management, adaptation to change, and building strong interpersonal relationships. Candidates with limited professional experience should draw upon other life experiences.
For example, a law student who was captain of a sports team or managed a restaurant could elaborate on these experiences to demonstrate strong confl ict management and communication skills.
Also take an interest in and understand the employer's clients and the industries in which they work. As the economy has changed, clients have become increasingly frustrated with high billable rates and expect even their most junior lawyers to add value.
Associates are also expected to help build and maintain close client relationships. It's never too early to demonstrate an enthusiasm for working with a potential employer's clients.
During the interview process, you likely will have the opportunity to socialize with additional attorneys from potential legal employers. These events are part of the process and provide additional opportunities to display social intelligence.
Employers will be watching to see if a candidate can establish rapport with different people. They will see if he or she conveys confidence and comfort in various settings. It's important to have a sense of humor, but make sure that it shows good judgment. Do not make off color remarks just to get a laugh.
Social events can be short. Use the time effectively to meet as many people as possible. Your ability to network with everyone in the room will be a good predictor of your ability to network with clients and potential clients as a practicing attorney.
In addition, your ability to get along with other classmates and attorneys at the firm will be a good indication of whether you will get along with others when you are working at the firm. Your interaction with every person in the room matters, including the wait staff. Since emotional intelligence can be learned and practiced, view the interview process as an opportunity to hone EI skills.
ASSESS THEM, TOO
The interview process, on the other hand, should also be used to assess which organization is the best fit for you. Assess the emotional intelligence of the individuals that you meet. And equally as important, what is the institution's EI?
What is the leadership of the firm like? Does it seem well led? What are the firm's values? "An emotionally intelligent organization needs to come to terms with any disparities between the values it proclaims and those it lives."[FOOTNOTE 5] Every firm has a unique culture. The interview process is a critical period when you should take the time to get to know potential employers, both the individuals and the greater institution.
As important as it is to take ownership of the interview process, it's also important to begin managing your career during law school.
Since EI will play an important role during interviews and throughout your career, more law schools are beginning to offer classes that address these "soft skills." Many schools are exploring overhauling the entire legal curriculum.[FOOTNOTE 6] However, a major change will probably not happen overnight. In the meantime, there are opportunities at most law schools to enroll in classes that teach students how to be a professional.
At one in the Midwest, a class was offered specifically on understanding and building emotional intelligence. Other schools that may not offer classes in professionalism, offer courses in less obvious topics like ethics that can help students build their EI. One of the best ways to learn to be a professional and build EI is through a clinical experience. Many schools offer the opportunity to work in a professional setting doing real client work.
Even if you plan to become a corporate lawyer, doing a clinic in criminal defense will give you the opportunity to work with clients. You will learn to listen, analyze, advise, advocate, empathize and negotiate, which are all skills that a lawyer practicing in any area needs to develop.
There are other resources at most law schools that should also be explored, such as workshops, executive coaches through the career center, and pro bono opportunities.
ON THE JOB
Most legal employers recognize that the learning process continues throughout their attorneys' careers. They invest heavily in the professional development of their lawyers. Much of the formal training at firms focuses on substantive skill development, but most also offer training in soft skills that build EI. Many offer programs in "lawyering." These sessions usually cover how to be a professional at a client service organization. They hopefully will clarify the firm's expectations for young associates, and generally cover topics like responsiveness, engagement in client matters, taking ownership of one's matters, proactively managing up, down and sideways, and effective communication. Programs for mid-level attorneys that focus on topics like management and delegation are also common at many large firms. These programs help associates better understand their own personal work style and learn how to work more effectively with others. Another important area that most firms and companies across industries are investing in is leadership training.
Leadership generally requires a person to be able to assess each individual situation and apply different leadership styles when appropriate. The right program can help participants explore their own personal leadership style and become more comfortable with other styles in order to be able to draw upon them when appropriate.
The need for firms to invest in professional development, while a good recruiting tool, is also now essential to meet client demands. Top legal professionals from corporations and large law firms met in early March 2010 at Georgetown Law School to discuss current law firm models and client relationships. Clients now expect more than ever that their lawyers will be able to offer them responsiveness, quality product, predictable fees and business referrals, and help in avoiding problems.[FOOTNOTE 7] Young lawyers need to understand that their individual efforts and emotional competence contribute to the overall success of the firm and help maintain strong relationships with clients.
Dr. Thomas Achenbach, a University of Vermont psychologist, did many studies on EI across decades. He discovered that as generations of children have grown smarter, their emotional intelligence has unfortunately declined.[FOOTNOTE 8] Statistics like this make a strong argument for focusing more attention on emotional intelligence.
In the current economy, where competition for fewer spots at legal employers is fierce, those employers have the ability to scrutinize potential employees more closely than they have in the past. As a result, it's important for law students to become accountable for their own emotional intelligence, focus on exhibiting it in the recruiting process, and building it during law school and throughout their careers.
Alison Bernard is the director of the office of attorney development in the New York office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. Niki Kopsidas is the director of legal recruitment for the firm's Washington, D.C., office.
FN1 R.K. Cooper, A. Sawaf, "Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations" (A Perigree Book, The Berkley Publishing Group, trade paperback edition, 1998), p xiii.
FN2 See "NALP Roundtable Dialogue Continues: Future of Legal Recruiting Debated," November 2009. http://nalp.org/uploads/1109_Roundtable.pdf ("[I]n a series of four roundtable discussions hosted by NALP and the NALP foundation ... designed to be a national dialogue about the future of lawyer hiring, development, and advancement, participants focused specifically on how the industry might change and improve ways law firms recruit new associates in a new economy.")
FN3 Most large firms recruit summer associates in the late summer/early fall of a student's second year in law school. They hire these students with the intention of making permanent employment offers after that summer to join the firm the following year. This in effect requires the firms to make hiring decisions two years in advance of when a student would be starting at the firm in a permanent position.
FN4 D. Goleman, "Working with Emotional Intelligence" (Bantam Books, 1998) ("Goleman"), p. 33-34.
FN5 "Goleman," p. 281.
FN6 See "Has Legal Education Gone the Way of the Auto Industry?" February 2010, http://nalp.org/uploads/0210_Roundtable.pdf ("[E]veryone recognized the need for law schools to find ways to do a better job of teaching a wide range of professional skills including clinical skills for both litigation and transactional practices, professionalism, business and quantitative skills, ethics, a sense of service, problem solving skills, group and team work skills, and an awareness of emotional intelligence.").
FN7 A. Press, "The Change Agenda: Are We There Yet?" (March 22, 2010), The AmLaw Daily http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/ amlawdaily/2010/03/apresschange. html.
FN8 "Goleman," pp. 11-12.