Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better Lawyer

Here's How to Do it!

Guest Post - Author Judith Gordon, High Performance Coach

Her Legal Global Elite Mentor Judith Gordon. women in law

Judith Gordon, is a lecturer at UCLA law, school, founder of LeaderEsQ, LLC, a consultancy focusing on her core mission to empower and uplift legal professionals and the Center for Thriving in Law where she provides a digital learning platform for lawyers, law students and legal professionals.

Using Emotional Intelligence to Increase Your Success in Law

Reimagining Practice: The Emotionally Intelligent Lawyer

Lawyers are trained in analytical thinking, and we think of this is THE lawyering tool, but there is so much more. When we walk into a courtroom, engage in negotiation, or even simply attend our monthly practice group meeting, we’re activating:

  • emotional,
  • social and
  • somatic neural networks.

These all interact with with our analytical thinking and it all happens regardless of whether we’re cognizant of it or not.

We are Ignoring Key Components that Would Make Us Better Lawyers

The reality is that ignoring these components, as we have traditionally been trained to do, interferes with critical thinking, problem-solving, productivity and performance. And, with an impact like that, it's time we stopped ignoring key components to our success. Recent research on the legal profession has confirmed that ignoring these aspects has had far-reaching and unintended consequences for our wellbeing.  So, what can we do?

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Can We Increase Our Success in Law Using Emotional Intelligence?

Yes, we can.

Just as we’ve been trained to “think like lawyers,” we can also learn to:

  • develop emotional competencies and
  • somatic awareness.

All are needed to meet the challenges of current-day legal practice. Learning to engage our entire sensory experience improves our reasoning and problem solving and helps us deal with a primary emotional experience we are all familiar with - stress.

How to Turn Lawyer Stress into Useful Energy

This means that every time we feel our throat clench, our heart “sink,” our stomach constrict, or tightness between our shoulder blades, rather than just pushing it out of our minds and trying to ignore it, we can:

  • turn that emotional and somatic information into useful energy,
  • and translate that experience into thoughts, feelings and physical cues.

All of this supports optimal cognitive function, motivates our efforts and improves performance. Now that we know just how impressive we can be, how do we achieve it?

4 Steps to Better Emotional Intelligence

So how might lawyers who are trained in analytical thinking, but not in emotional and somatic intelligence, manage stressful experiences?

Here are four steps you can implement right now!

1.       Identifying the emotion.

Feelings aren’t facts, they’re information. For example, one of the most common emotions lawyers feel is fear. We’re not experiencing an actual threat to life and limb, yet the experience of fear is real. This is because when we face a new or evaluative experience, such as in the courtroom or a presentation, our brains trigger a protective auto-response.

Our response may even be accompanied by shortness of breath, a rapid heartbeat, or excessive sweating.

Rather than being distracted or swept away by that gnawing fear, identifying the feeling calms the mind and body, and dissipates the experience; it frees us to take full charge of our thinking.

2.       Identify a more supportive emotional experience.

Our productivity and performance are only as good as we feel.

Nobody likes to work from a state of dread or by feeling resistant to a task. We’re much more likely to churn out a high-quality work product if we’re connected to a motivating emotion such as:

  • interest,
  • curiosity,
  • openness to a new challenge, or
  • commitment to the project.

Supportive emotions create clearer cognition, reasoning and critical thinking. A shift in our emotional experience leads to a shift in mindset, which together create a high-performing mental state.

3.       Thoughts and feelings drive decisions and actions.

Whether or not we’re cognizant of it, our actions and decisions are the product of our combined thoughts and feelings. To construct better arguments, draft better contracts, conduct better depositions, etc., it benefits us to increase our awareness of all of the components that go into maximizing cognitive function. That means tapping into our feelings.

4.       Engage somatically.

Trying to solve a problem by “thinking hard” often takes longer and more effort than by engaging all of our sensory information.

Our brains and bodies are interdependent; they’re designed to work in concert.

So what can we do to create the interconnection between our body and our mind? Taking a walk, changing location, using props to bypass the cognitive process, or “sleeping on it,” often present perspectives and solutions that otherwise elude us.

Real Life Examples of Lawyers Incorporating The Somatic Experience

Here are a couple of examples of where legal professionals used these techniques to achieve incredible results, with better and more rapid mental processing.

Taking Physical Cues Shortened His Work Time

A former student of mine was working on a Comment for the Law Review. The position he was taking was a controversial one, not supported by precedent, yet he felt strongly about the correctness of his argument. Still, he was having difficulty figuring out how to present his argument coherently and persuasively. He was sitting at his desk, facing his computer, trying to mentally figure the issues out, when he noticed that his body was turned away from his desk, “as if to flee” (in his words).

Instead of ignoring the cue, he went for a walk. While walking, within a short time, he gained clarity as to how to present his argument, returned to his desk and completed the Comment.

Often, the real work that we do is not accomplished in a seated position facing our computers, but in taking a short time to allow our full complement of neural networks to contribute to our reasoning and problem-solving.

Partner Reframes Her Emotional Response to Busy Workload

A partner with whom I worked was worried that her clients were dissatisfied with her work. She felt overwhelmed, and feared that they might fire her. She had a large caseload, and she felt that she wasn’t completing her work as quickly as she wanted to. She rated her emotional experience as -4 on a scale of -5 to +5.

When I asked her to consider evidence that her clients were indeed satisfied with her work, she said that they kept sending her new matters. It was then that she realized that the actual reason she felt behind on her work was that her clients continued to send her more work.

The knowledge that her clients were in fact satisfied moved her experience from -4 to +2. She wasn’t quite ready to let go of her concerns, yet this was a major shift in terms of freeing up her mind from debilitating worry, and expanding her cognitive capacity and ability to work more confidently.

There are numerous examples and avenues for translating our fears and concerns into more motivating and energizing emotions.

At the end of the day, these emotional and somatic strategies make us:

1. more engaged,

2. more energized, and

3. more confident lawyers.

If you are ready to explore this type of "more" in your life and practice, contact High Performance Coach, Judith Gordon, who specializes in assisting lawyers in high intensity practices to thrive. Her Lawyer Life Reimagined is a transformative approach to practicing law with confidence, energy and passion. Reach Judith by email, or schedule a call.

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About The Editor

Faye Gelb, founder of Her Legal Global is passionate about empowering lawyers to have a career that makes them smile when they wake up in the morning. Lawyer, Entrepreneur, startup cofounder, front end web developer, photographer and business consultant. Her goal is to help you use your law degree and have a career you love, on your own terms, throughout your career.