I guess it's like pornography: It's tricky to define, but you know it when you see it. I'm talking about emotional intelligence ("EI" for the cognoscenti), the latest buzz phrase that's been embraced by law firms.
Partners often tell me that hiring those with emotional intelligence—that is, people with interpersonal skills—is a priority. It's supposed to be good for client relations, esprit de corps, productivity, broken hearts—whatever ails you. That seems reasonable, though I wonder where firms will find those precious species, considering that personality has never ranked high on the priority list in the legal world.
Indeed, the legal profession lags behind the business sector on the EI front. Some business schools screen for EI right at the starting gate. Besides submitting their GMATs, college transcripts, and essays, MBA aspirants "need to shine by showing emotional traits like empathy, motivation, resilience," reports The Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ describes the screening techniques at a number of B-schools and other institutions. Applicants to Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business have to complete "a 206-item online questionnaire called the Personal Characteristics Inventory." Yale's School of Management recently developed a 141-item test that "measures how well applicants might manage or understand their own emotions with questions about everyday scenarios." And Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business now asks those who write recommendations to score applicants about their "ability to cope with pressure, intellectual curiosity, and other traits."
It seems to be a no-brainer that law should also focus on these skills to ensure long-term success. But both law schools and firms tend to place an outsized emphasis on grades and scores—which, in my mind, is a rather short-term approach.
Dan Bowling, who teaches a class on lawyers and well-being at Duke Law School, says law schools don't consider applicants' EI but should, because it's "an excellent predictor—along with traditional IQ—of success in numerous domains." He speculates that schools don't take it into account "because it seems negatively correlated with [the traits of] most law school professors!"But recruiter Dan Binstock says law firms are starting to pay attention to emotional intelligence, even if they don't use that terminology. "For example, McKenna Long is doing personality testing for laterals," he says. "In my experience, candidates who have higher levels of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills always experience more success on interviews because, not surprisingly, the ability to connect with the interviewers implies the ability to connect with the firm’s clients."
To be perfectly honest, I'm still doubtful that firms grasp or care about this issue. Maybe I'm too cynical, but I'll bet many lawyers still regard "emotional intelligence" as an oxymoron. Am I wrong?
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