Law People

Law People

Better Law Practice Through Better People Management

Muir to Speak at University of California at Irvine School of Law Symposium on Wellness

Posted in Announcements, Emotional Intelligence, Law Education, Professional Development, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Wellness, Work/Life Balance

The Mental Health in Law Society’s 2019 Symposium at the University of California at Irvine School of Law to be held on March 22 and 23 will be examining different methods for wellness development in legal education and in the legal profession. Muir will be on the Saturday morning panel with Anne Brafford, the author of Positive Professionals, and Patrick Krill, the author of the 2016 ABA Hazelden report on the extraordinary signs of distress in the legal industry.

Muir will be discussing emotional intelligence, the role it plays in developing wellness and how legal institutions and organizations can help increase emotional intelligence.

Addressing Firms’ Greatest Challenge

Posted in Client Service, Emotional Intelligence, Law Education, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Professional Development, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management

A recent survey by Robert Half Legal found that 83% of law firm respondents noted increasing demand over the last year for legal services. That is a welcome new trend after years of lower demand and lost legal jobs. But that promising development comes with a new challenge for legal employers–hiring the best legal professionals to provide those services.

One would think that, with approximately twice as many law students graduating in any given year as there are new legal jobs, finding eager and qualified new employees would not be such a challenge. But the wording is important: “recruiting highly skilled legal professionals” was identified by the respondents as the firms’ greatest challenge.

What makes for highly skilled legal professionals? The graduates have all been vetted by, admitted to and graduated from an ABA-accredited law school, all have passed one or more bar exams, and theoretically therefore arrive at the recruitment interview with all the skill that our legal education system offers. Aren’t the best candidates simply the ones with the highest grades? What’s the challenge?

Let’s start with the ground-breaking, extensive study done by Marjorie Schultz (University of California-Berkeley law school professor) and Sheldon Zedeck (U Cal-Berkeley psychology professor) in 2011 about what skills are needed to practice law well. A few of those 26 skills that they established involve cognitive reasoning, analysis and researching capabilities, as might be expected, although there are no “subject matter” skills. As most of us in the fast-paced digital age realize, any subject matter expertise that one graduates with is likely outdated in a matter of months or years, at best. So becoming a subject matter “expert” is a continual process of mining, analyzing and applying both historical and rapidly-evolving current information to our clients’ issues. That’s when those cognitive attributes are important.

The other 20+ skills they found necessary to practice law well involve “non-cognitive” skills, like establishing and maintaining healthy relationships with clients and colleagues, giving practical, empathic advice, managing one’s own stress, work flow and expressions, mentoring, managing and influencing others, negotiating and advocating, and networking and developing business, to name a few. These are skills that virtually no law school teaches and that we know from reliable data lawyers are often weak in.

As stated in the study, these “non-cognitive” constructs “correlated at a higher level of significance with lawyer performance factors than did LSAT scores, UGPA [undergraduate grade point average], or Index [combinations of those factors].”

So the search for “skilled” legal professionals takes on a more daunting quality in light of this information. No transcript will identify these skills. Few interviewers are equipped to identify them either.

The result is that the legal industry suffers from a frequent mismatch of employee skills and job requirements–resulting in high rates of attrition, client dissatisfaction, malpractice and disciplinary actions, and lawyer distress and burnout.

Robert Half Legal suggests that law firms try to coax new lawyers into their firms by offering more positive cultures, expanded professional development training, and more benefits, essentially to help offset the effects of that mismatch.

At some point–hopefully well before more organizations implode and talented individuals leave–we as an industry will have to start focusing on the skills that really matter in a fast-paced, high-pressure, high-performing profession that is in the end measured by client service–that is, identifying, training and supporting lawyers who can manage the daunting task of establishing healthy, sustainable practices. That involves a set of skills that is of a different type and magnitude than those cognitive skills we traditionally focus on.

As the Shultz/Zedeck study concluded: those who possess the few cognitive skills that law schools teach and measure–and that employers tend to focus on–are “unlikely to exhibit [the] strong emotional development” necessary to practice law well. Producing graduates with that strong emotional development may well be our profession’s greatest challenge.


South Carolina Inns of Court

Posted in Emotional Intelligence

Muir spoke to a packed crowd of members of the Columbia SC Inns of Court–litigators, judges and law students–on Tuesday, February 19th in Columbia, South Carolina on Emotional Intelligence and the Law. Topics touched on were lawyers’ attitudes and scores regarding emotions–with a short quiz for the audience, the impact that emotions have on our perceptions, judgments and performance, and how to increase our emotional intelligence.

Artificial Emotional Intelligence Predicts Election Results

Posted in Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Innovation

Research long ago revealed that the portion of the brain that lights up when politics are being discussed is the emotional area–the limbic/amygdala area of the brain–not the rational prefrontal cortex. In short, politics is not a topic about which we are rational–a conclusion that these days may be particularly apparent.

Gauging emotional reactions–how people feel–is more and more the measure for determining strategies in advertising, marketing, and communication of all types, but here is a recent example of how important “how people feel” is to not only their purchasing preferences but their political preferences as well.

A political forecasting tool using artificial emotional intelligence recently accurately predicted the outcome of the Illinois governor race. BPU Holdings’ ZimGo Polling reported on November 5th that Pritzker would win the race with 52% of the vote vs. Rauner’s 39%, falling within 2% of the actual results. The Korean version of the product proved more accurate than six other polling services in the most recent South Korean presidential election.

Crowing about its accuracy, ZimGo Polling is claiming that its product proves that “older legacy polling methods”–using the telephone or other intrusive methods–“have earned their place in the history books alongside the outdated rotary phone and the floppy disk.” Simply asking people how they intend to vote is no longer reliable. That is, in the end, a rational question to an emotional condition.

This new product’s results are achieved by accurately assessing emotional sentiment by sifting through the half billion daily tweets and other public forums touching on the race. The program scores entire paragraphs, including emoticons, and can interpret slang. Seth Grimes, principal analyst for Alta Plana, which specializes in natural language processing, confirms that, “Attention shares and decisions are driven as much by emotion as by fact. Today’s competitive campaigns apply technology to understand both fact and feeling and shape opinion.”

BPU Holdings promotes itself as a company “dedicated to generating the most advanced, usable, secure and innovative Artificial Emotional Intelligence (AEI) technology in the world. Artificial Intelligence (AI) emulates how people think — AEI emulates how people feel.” That certainly sounds like one for the importance of emotional intelligence.

But note Grimes’ last point. Not only is emotion the better gauge of how people intend to vote but it may also be one of the better vehicles for changing opinions. Therein lies the challenge for regulators and the public at large. Emotional intelligence, the real human variety, gives people the tools to recognize, understand and manage their own and others’ emotions. It is, however, a value-neutral ability; that is, it can be used toward achieving any end, whether socially good or bad. Simply being able to employ emotionally intelligent strategies–strategies that successfully appeal to the emotions–is not necessarily what’s best for the country at large, even if they garner the most votes.

So here we have a conundrum. Do people know in a rational way what’s good for the country politically? Or do they just like to feel good? Emotional intelligence at its best engages the cognitive part of the brain to help assess emotional data and responses. As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman pointed out in his best-selling Thinking Fast and Slow, combining the strengths of both emotions (his System 1) and rational thought (his System 2) achieves the best results.

Politics may well be an area where engaging our rational thought to test and try our emotional preferences is highly advisable. Yes, puppies are adorable, and something like “puppies for all” might be emotionally appealing. And maybe even politically or economically possible. But we have to leaven those emotional reactions–which make us feel compassionate or generous or empowered–with rational input.

Using Emotional Intelligence Testing in Hiring

Posted in Emotional Intelligence, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Uncategorized

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology confirmed that emotional intelligence can be a highly effective gauge for measuring an employee’s suitability. To meet that need, the researchers at the Universities of Geneva and Berne, Switzerland, developed assessments for employers to use during the hiring process to determine a candidate’s levels of sensitivity to and recognition of emotions.

To create these tests, the researchers interviewed over 40 managers of Swiss-based firms to determine the attributes managers thought most important. The tests use video clips featuring actors in work-related situations and pose accompanying questions that ask how candidates would handle anger, sadness, fear, inappropriate happiness and other emotions in the workplace.

Before the assessments were released, they were tested on 800+ participants between the ages of 20 and 60, which confirmed what other research shows, that people scoring high in the ability to regulate their emotions tend to earn a slightly higher salary, that women generally score higher than men, particularly on interpreting nonverbal expressions of emotion, and that “emotional intelligence increases with age and experience, meaning it’s a faculty that can be improved and developed.” Some of the assessments are awaiting further development before being made public, but several are already available online.


Best Wishes for the Happiest of Holidays! And a Gift

Posted in Announcements, Books, Emotional Intelligence

Everyone at Law People Management wish you and yours the happiest of holidays! May you travel safe, enjoy the company of family and friends, and experience the profit of a successful career and the peace of a life well-lived.

For a more emotionally intelligent 2019, the ABA is offering a 20% discount off the applicable member price on Beyond Smart: Lawyering with Emotional Intelligence and other ABA titles using discount code ‘OURGIFT18.’ 





Emotional Intelligence Makes You Run Faster and Play Harder and Win!

Posted in Coaching, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Wellness, Work/Life Balance

If there were any question as to whether emotional intelligence positively impacts every endeavor, research has recently verified that even athletes benefit from EI. A study of marathon runners showed that, of 237 runners, those with higher emotional intelligence finish half-marathons faster than their low EI competitors, even after controlling for the effects of physical training and the number of half marathons run in the past.

The researchers found that those who can control their emotions tend to have better times. “My co-authors and I are all interested in how emotions influence human behavior,” said Enrico Rubaltelli, one of the authors of the study. ”The ability to overcome fatigue while running is a fundamental question and we were convinced that it depended greatly on people’s ability to manage their emotions.”

This phenomenon has been played out in coaching as well. In 2016, Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Eagles, Philadelphia’s football team, announced that “emotional intelligence” was a trait he was looking for in the next man to fill the Eagles’ head coaching job. People laughed about that phrase, but Doug Pederson fit the bill and went on to coach the Eagles to a 2018 Super Bowl win. Pederson has credited the team’s performance at least in part to his emotional connection to the players:

“I think that having the connection, having been in the locker room, having an understanding of the dynamic of what a team needs, what a team should feel, how we should practice, how we should play, when to take the pads off, when to put the pads back on, I think all of that is part of that emotional intelligence that we all — and I try to strive for and to have with the guys. I think that relationship has gone a long way this season.” 

Even though the Eagles have suffered some tough defeats since that Super Bowl win, Pederson is still viewed as “the ultimate players’ coach.” As one commentator said, “he might not always do the right thing…but Pederson always acts with his heart.”

As a followup to the success Pederson as had, the team has made it clear that they are also looking for emotional intelligence in their draft prospects, as well.

The value of looking for players who display emotional intelligence is validated by research on the emotional intelligence of NHL hockey players. A Canadian study correlated the players’ emotional intelligence with the number of points scored and games played. While length of time since the draft correlated positively with performance, so did “intrapersonal competency”–which encompasses self-awareness, emotional understanding and emotional management skills–and emotional mood. A study of retired NFL players also pointed to emotional intelligence as a significant factor in post-play professional and personal success, health and happiness, concluding: “Athletes with greater emotional intelligence are likely to be more successful in life.”

The same factors that figure in successful sports teams–emotional awareness, understanding and management–are the factors that make individuals, teams and organizations successful in business and law.


A Shared Tragedy

Posted in Books, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Wellness

As we count our Thanksgiving blessings, we should remember the many lawyers (and their friends and families) who are not feeling blessed, but rather tormented by the life they are leading in the law.

As most are aware by now, Gabe MacConaill, a young bankruptcy partner at Sidley Austin, died in October from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the parking garage of the firm’s Los Angeles office. His wife has written a heart-wrenching tribute to her husband that points a finger not only at herself for not realizing the gravity of Gabe’s distress, but also at the law firm he worked for: “Big Law Killed My Husband.”

His workload, the expectation of perfection and the unrelenting pace in an environment that frowned on seeking help made him a prime candidate for a breakdown, if not suicide, she alleges.

She mentions that he suffered from a “deep, hereditary mental health disorder.”  Many other lawyers have similar conditions and struggle with impairment and suicidal impulses. As reviewed in Beyond Smartresearch makes it clear that lawyers suffer at a disproportionately high rate from mental illness, and it starts in law school, culminating in male lawyers committing suicide at twice the rate of non-lawyer males and huge swaths of both male and female lawyers drowning their misery in drugs and alcohol.

The firm’s public reaction to Gabe’s death has been compassionate, as expected, with apparent recognition of the tragedy of his death and the necessity of raising awareness. But the real question remains whether Sidley Austin– or the many other firms where lawyers are suffering from exhaustion and feelings of failure–are going to truly, systematically deal with a well-documented, industry-wide threat in a smart, compassionate way. Not just by signing pledges or discouraging drinking at firm events, although those kinds of steps are laudable, but by going beyond lip-service and band aids to instituting firm-wide programs based on sound principles of behavioral science that recognize and support those (unfortunately many) brilliant lawyers on their teams of whom so much is asked but who may not feel they can ask for help.

For that, we would all be thankful.

Vote for Law People for Best Legal Blog!

Posted in Announcements

  We are proud to announce that Law People has been nominated from a field of hundreds to compete in The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog Contest, one of the largest competitions for legal blog writing online today.

Now it is up to the readers to select the very best of the blogs with an open voting format that allows participants one vote per blog. Each blog will compete for rank within its category, with the three blogs that receive the most votes in any category to be crowned overall winners.

The competition runs from November 5th until the close of voting at 12:00 AM on December 17th.

Vote for Law People by casting your vote through one of the social media platforms here.


Exhaustion: Building a Successful, Sustainable Legal Organization

Posted in Client Service, Compensation, Emotional Intelligence, Innovation, Leadership, Management, Professional Development, Profitability, Risk Management, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Wellness, Work Satisfaction

Paul Rawlinson, Baker McKenzie’s Global Chair, stepped down temporarily from his position last month. The firm’s announcement read in part:

“Based on the advice of his doctor, in response to medical issues caused by exhaustion, Paul has decided to take a step back from Firm leadership and client responsibilities to make his health and recovery his immediate priority.”

While we don’t know the particulars of Mr. Rawlinson’s situation, the legal profession generally seems similarly overcome.

In September of 2017, a year after the release of a survey that found the levels of problem drinking and mental health issues in the legal profession significantly higher than in previous studies, the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession was formed.  The Working Group published a well-being toolkit for law firms, to which Muir contributed, and announced in September 2018 that several firms had signed a pledge to focus more on lawyer mental health. It is unclear whether Bake McKenzie was among them.

Pundits everywhere have weighed in on the causes of these increasingly troublesome mental health breakdowns among our ranks. As discussed in Beyond Smart: Lawyering with Emotional Intelligence, Muir’s research has uncovered some tantalizing correlations. The LSAT’s deductive-style questions apparently favor those who are slightly depressed, indicating even before entering law school a population possibly not able to manage their emotions well. There are also indications that law school may further alienate students from recognizing, and then being in a position to deal with, their emotional states. Pessimism, long recognized as a pervasive career asset among lawyers, nonetheless has some potentially unattractive side effects both personally and professionally, making collaboration, relationship-building and maintenance, risk-taking, innovation and reaching out for help more difficult. All of which can lead to isolation and a spiral downward because of little personal support.

Firm practices often reinforce or compound these personal tendencies. Those so accused include compensation plans:

“Compensation systems intentionally incentivize lawyers to work as hard and as long as they can… [m]agnifying and exploiting lawyers’ weakness for individual achievement and financial gain…”

We all know that practicing law can be a taxing and stressful endeavor. Yet there are a number of steps legal organizations can, and certainly should, take to improve the mental health of their troops. The first question, however, is whether we are even going to consider that endeavor to be a valuable undertaking? Exactly what does it take–beyond statistical exclamations and individual carnage–to make that a priority?

Congratulations to Baker McKenzie for at least copping to their Global Chair’s impairment and offering support and a way back home. Who is next?