Remaining calm and confident while everyone else is losing their composure is the hallmark of a wise  lawyer.

By James Gray Robinson, Consultant

Emotional Intelligence and Lawyers

The concept of emotional intelligence came on the scene about 20 years ago in studies that compared successful leaders with those who failed to succeed. In talking with many lawyers about their emotional intelligence, I have found that lawyers don’t pay much attention to this construct and perhaps it is time for them to do so.

Emotional intelligence has been found to be twice as important in the business management world as intellectual intelligence and technical skills. As lawyers we tend to live in a bubble of our current cases, so the invitation here is to step up our business game. These are the characteristics of emotional intelligence that lawyers need to integrate these into their practice and personal lives for greater success and stress reduction.

Self-Awareness: the Ability to Honestly Assess Who You Are

This involves the traits of being totally aware of your strengths, weaknesses, values, and how you relate to others. Lawyers who are intimately familiar with these characteristics have a realistic appraisal of who they are and what they can do.

I can remember being asked to be a US Bankruptcy Trustee in my district, which would have been prestigious and popular. I turned it down because I didn’t think I had the organizational skills and attention to detail I thought the position required. Oftentimes lawyers get into situations that their ego failed to consider the reality of getting into. When you concentrate on using your strengths and avoid committing to things that highlight your weaknesses, you’ve committed to fully enjoying what you’re doing and being authentic.

Self awareness also involves how lawyers treat each other. Many times lawyers feel that they can only go so far with professional courtesies. Voluntary extensions of time, being courteous and kind, are traits that get lost in the legal system. It takes no extra time, nor relinquishing of power and status to be kind. Lawyers need to cooperate more… with each other.

Self-Control: Another Trait Lawyers Need to Develop

To be calm and confident while everyone else is losing their composure, is the hallmark of a wise and knowing lawyer. When we make rash decisions in the heat of the moment many times we will regret it. I can remember finding out that an opposing lawyer destroyed evidence prior to trial. My emotions enticed me to file a grievance and motions before the court. I resisted the urge, and decided to let it play out at trial. I was rewarded with a million-dollar verdict. We don’t always need a hammer, we can let patience be our reward. This also is the trait of self-confidence and trusting your gut.

I remember going through periods of time where everything was going against me. When lawyers experience adverse results and rulings, it is not necessarily personal, it’s an opportunity to look for the lesson. Lawyers are not victims by any means. We knowingly jumped into the pools where sharks swim. Life may be difficult at times, at work and at home. Lawyers need to have the self confidence to know that both life changes and adversity have a positive side to it. Lawyers need to keep their chin up and keep going. When lawyers understand that who they are has nothing to do with results (awareness), then they are in charge of their emotional landscape and how they react to those results.

Social Skills Are Critical

Social Skills Family LawyerMany times I ran into lawyers who seemed to want everyone to hate them. Seriously. Perhaps it was a sign of the times, or again perhaps it’s because we tend to be aware of the goings-on as far as the inner skin of the bubble of our cases, but they were intentionally rude, abusive, and neurotic. I knew some attorneys that recorded every conversation and meeting that they had in fear that someone would file a grievance against them. We have to have some confidence and backbone, as well as respect and trust for ourselves and our legal tribe.

While I could tell many stories about lawyer neuroses, what we need to see is maturity and grace. Stress is still the number one downside of being a lawyer. In my experience, stress is often caused by a lack of social skills. Sometimes this involves the lack of people skills, simply knowing how to be friendly and supportive. Knowing the right thing to say in an awkward situation has brought many to not engage at all. Social skills involve building rapport with others and helping others. Lawyers are human beings and not isolationists by nature. It is not all about the lawyer, although many may feel that way. Oftentimes lawyers lack empathy, they could care less about what everyone else is feeling and doing.

When lawyers make the effort to understand everyone else, they can be so much more effective on the human side of the equation. Being a successful lawyer is not always about winning cases, it is about being an effective and compassionate human being. Knowing what everyone else is going through gives us both an advantage and an appreciation of how powerful lawyers can be.

Gratitude: Probably the Most Overlooked Attribute of Any Lawyer

Gratitude is the opposite of stress. Stress comes from being afraid of not getting what we want or being afraid of losing what we have and have worked so hard for. I can remember those last few months I practiced law prior to changing to another profession. I had been sued for malpractice by my client’s ex, I was going through my own divorce, and revenues were dropping. Gratitude was hard to find in those days. I felt like I was a victim and everyone was against me.

Looking back on that now, I can honestly say I’m extremely grateful for my experiences. If I had known then what I know now, I probably would still be practicing law. Without a doubt, developing these skills to be emotionally intelligent will help lawyers be more successful, less stress-filled and genuinely happy.

James Gray Robinson was a third-generation trial attorney, specializing in family law, in his native North Carolina for 27 years. Since 2004, he has become an individual and business consultant who works with a wide range of people, professional organizations, and leading corporations. Robinson’s mission is for all people to have fulfilling, peaceful career experiences and work environments. You can learn more about his work by visiting

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