In a first study of its kind, researchers analyzing nearly 5,000 job descriptions placed between 2000 and 2017 in help-wanted ads for CEOs, as well as the other big C’s, found a 27% increase in social skills requirements, while the emphasis on hard skills, like financial management, declined by 38%. The most wanted soft skills included a high level of self-awareness, the ability to listen and communicate, and empathy–“the capacity to infer how others are thinking and feeling,” the authors write. “At all employment levels today, more and more jobs require highly developed social skills. Harvard’s David Deming, among others, has demonstrated that such jobs have grown at a faster rate than the labor market as a whole—and that compensation for them is growing faster than average.”

While more recent data isn’t yet available, there is evidence that the pandemic has made it even more crucial that leaders are good, empathetic communicators. Yet many companies haven’t figured out how to screen candidates for these skills, says Raffaella Sadun, a professor at Harvard Business School who co-authored the paper.

Empathy, communications skills and self-awareness should be core strengths for lawyers. But law firms are among those most in need of improving firm overall emotional intelligence, both for purposes of serving clients well and also in order to support healthy and productive partners, associates and staff.

Although well-established assessments have demonstrated that they can help employers understand and place at least lower-level newcomers in a firm’s community, they are often not used, even after hiring. But there are steps firms can take short of assessments that can be valuable. Having a psychologically-oriented expert on staff, often in charge of talent management, who is respected for their perspective is a good start. Behavioral interviewing can reveal a lot about a person’s soft skills. Making sure several interviewers with different styles interface with the candidate also helps a firm understand that person’s strengths and weaknesses. And a preliminary work period before a candidate’s employment becomes permanent can clarify the best role for an individual.

What does your firm do to insure that its incoming and upcoming leadership has the soft skills necessary to cope with our challenging legal landscape?