Emotional Intelligence: A Key Competency for Lawyers in the Digital Age

In its 2018 Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum identifies key skills that are needed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. New technologies in this digital age mean that workers need to adapt to new roles and changes in the workforce. As a result, the report puts significant emphasis on technical and cognitive skills, but also on the “human” skills needed to thrive in this new age: creativity, critical thinking, flexibility, resilience, and emotional intelligence. 

What is emotional intelligence? 

Daniel Goleman “describes emotional intelligence as your ability to manage and use your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others, purposefully.” Goleman identifies five components to emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy and social skills. Developing these skills has immense benefits, as people are able to work more collaboratively, adjust more easily to challenging situations, and deal more calmly with conflict. Studies show that exemplary employees exhibiting emotional intelligence make the workplace better.

A key job competency in the legal world

But how do these workplace skills translate into the legal world? How can you use emotional intelligence to benefit your work as a lawyer? 

EI gives you the ability to adapt to changes in the legal profession

Much has been written on what Mark Cohen calls “law’s looming skills crisis.” Within this mindset, the law is seen as a hierarchical profession built on knowledge that only a lawyer can understand and apply. But the clients of the digital age “demand transformed legal services” that no longer fit within this traditional model. These services must be client-centred with the “ability to handle complex and tense social situations.” Services must be multidisciplinary and “meld law, technology and business.” As legal work becomes more diverse and global, your ability to be flexible and adapt to the demands of different clients relies on the strong interpersonal skills of emotional intelligence. 

EI allows you to work confidently as part of a team

As legal work becomes less hierarchical and more collaborative, “considering the feedback and emotions of others is essential.” Emotional intelligence allows you to become aware of your own strengths, while being able to tune in to the strengths and skills of others. An openness to consulting with others can lead to creative problem solving and an appreciation for the value of teamwork. According to legal consultant Mike Quartararo, self-regulation “means you are thoughtful, deliberate and empathetic, yet decisive,” traits that make you both an effective team member and leader. 

EI helps you develop and apply strong leadership skills

The skills associated with high emotional intelligence are also those of strong and effective leaders. Janelle Lindo suggests that self awareness—the pillar of emotional intelligence—“is also the gateway to leadership mastery.” The traits associated with emotional intelligence allow leaders in the legal world to “manage and keep a good functioning team of associates,” as well as attract and understand complex clients. You can also develop the perspective you need to “understand emotions without letting them overwhelm you or stop you from making the best decisions.” 

Chances are you are already using many of the characteristics of emotional intelligence in your legal work. The key is to become more purposeful in the way you use it.