Sluggish. That word describes the pace of instruction and training concerning emotional intelligence in American law schools. This post, another installment in the Beyond the Blue Book series* on Psycholawlogy, briefly discusses some significant points in the history of legal education and emotional intelligence, provides a current perspective, and closes by offering some simple and easy suggestions.

This jump-start offers a way to bridge the widening gap correlated with decades of the legal academy “studying”, “exploring”, or “investigating”, but insufficiently addressing unmet student needs and legal employers’ unfulfilled desires. Law students and early career lawyers may not realize it, but they need emotional intelligence training and education. The more savvy twenty-first century legal employers realize it, and want and need emotionally intelligent lawyers. Some will hire only those with a record of such education and training.

Who Should Read This Post and Why. Each year American law schools produce thousands of graduates. A majority of these people have by law school graduation day accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Many have another gorilla on their backs – they are not ready to practice law.

After three years of legal education and “training”, most graduates, i.e. the some 40% who do land jobs which require a law license, have not been adequately prepared to lace them up, and put their own boots on the ground and begin slaying real legal dragons for actual clients in the real world. Those conclusions flow from considering recently announced results* from a sample of over twenty-four thousand lawyers. Most of the survey participants believed that the most newly minted lawyers just can’t do the work.

More recently, one legal educator (Pierson, 2016) noted that most law graduates gain little education about it, and consequently know little, lack training, and have little experience using three core self-management tools identified as needed by 21st century legal professionals to successfully position themselves to manage their own careers.

This post alerts law students and recent graduates about one of those issues. It offers legal educators, law students, early career lawyers, and legal employers some practical suggestions about how to sharpen one of the three self-management tools desired by legal employers and needed by law students and early career lawyers now – emotional intelligence.

American Legal Education & Emotional Intelligence: A History of Avoided Challenges and Unmet Needs. An early adopter of emotional intelligence for legal education, one brave legal educator (Silver, 1999), identified the issues, and laid out the initial case for the legal academy’s need to educate its students about the importance of the emotional dimensions of lawyering. The bold warning about “deficiencies”, i.e. the dire intrapersonal (stress, substance abuse, depression) and interpersonal (empathy and trust deficits with clients, poor relationships with colleagues, and less effective dispute resolution)  consequences of the devaluation and denial of the importance of emotions and feelings in legal training and legal practice, sounded loud and clear nearly twenty years ago. The article discussed the concept emotional intelligence, traced its historical development, summarized the concept’s basic scientific underpinnings, provided examples and discussed deficiencies in legal education, and offered suggestions for law schools about how to educate their students about the intra-personal and inter-personal aspects of their emotional lives in the context of serving their clients.

Professor Silver re-imagined a legal education responsive to all practitioner styles and varieties of lawyering, and which focused on the emotional aspects of lawyering and developing personal intelligences, such compassion and empathy, as well as analytical legal problem-solving. According to Professor Silver, two “compelling reasons” made the case: increase lawyer satisfaction and better address client needs and concerns.  She spoke in terms of those in legal education  as seizing the opportunity “. . . to address these deficiencies and to build into our curriculum possibilities to develop emotional intelligence.” The alarm included this charge: “Legal educators should affirmatively and deliberately endeavor to cultivate emotional intelligence, to develop intra- and interpersonal skills essential to good lawyering.” Ten years later another member of the legal academy connected emotional intelligence education and training with attorney professionalism. This thought leader envisioned emotional intelligence as a way to address deficits of empathy associated with the way law schools educate and train their students

A former law school dean, (Montgomery, 2008) claimed that “Law schools are inadequately developing an ethos of professionalism in law students.” His thoughtful article noted the earlier suggestions urged by Professor Silver, and challenged the legal academy to incorporate emotional intelligence training to strengthen the professionalism of lawyers. He noted how the body of emotional intelligence theory and research had advanced and how business schools have successfully adopted the concept and now include training and instruction about it in their curricula. Professor Montgomery described the vehicle of incorporating emotional intelligence instruction and training in legal education as a “promising opportunity” to increase professionalism by enhancing the abilities to persuade, influence, and communicate. As a former law school dean, he challenged legal educators and administrators, claiming that “Without great cost or even restructuring the standard law school curriculum, it can be easily incorporated in legal education.”

From the data gathered in 2014-2015 and cited by Professor Pierson in one of the most recent scholarly commentaries about emotional intelligence and legal education, it seems that most American law schools have not taken the challenge by Dean Montgomery too seriously. Less than half of law schools offer some education and training in the emotional skills that lawyers need have in order to manage their own emotional lives and handle the emotional issues involved in servicing the needs of clients. Another conclusion which flows from her research shows that those schools which do offer such coursework and experiential training do so indirectly by ancillary means. Instruction about emotional intelligence occurs mainly as information tangential to the subject matter of other courses.

Consider these bullet points  distilled from “facts” cited in her fine 2016 article which argues for greater emotional intelligence instruction and training legal education:

  • Emotional intelligence “matters as much to one’s success as does mastery of the law”;
  • Emotional intelligence differentiates star from ordinary performers and some clients as well as law firms realize this;
  • Greater emotional maturity and emotion management skills will assist those who enter the legal profession as they will face ever-increasing change and disruption and will experience greater levels of stress;
  • The legal profession needs to develop emotional intelligence because “A greater percentage of lawyers experience psychological distress than does the general population.”
  • The psychological distress which impairs some lawyers also results in harm suffered by clients

Current Perspective: Employers Want Lawyers With Emotional Intelligence Abilities. The IAALS survey shows that legal employers want lawyers with emotional intelligence skills and characteristics now. Considering the survey results and Professor Pierson’s article’s discussion about the needed self-management tool of emotional intelligence, this means that American law schools must graduate students who have been instructed and trained in the skills of managing their own and others’ emotions. Graduates of law school must appreciate the concept, and effectively practice empathy. They must regulate their moods and control impulses to seek gratification immediately. Employers also want and need law graduates who can motivate themselves and contribute to team effort and follow leaders of the firm.

Suggested Self-Help Remedies for Law Students and Recent Law Graduates.  Analysis of the data as reported and the related arguments presented by the sources cited in this post leads to the conclusion that thousands of recent law graduates have not received instruction and training in the emotional intelligence skills desired by future employers. Thousands of current law students face the same deficits in their legal education. This part offers suggestions, a career compass-roadmap of sorts, to remedy what many legal employers most likely consider a serious shortfall by recent graduates in gaining foundations for practice necessary in the short-term.

Current law students can explore opportunities for emotional intelligence assessment, debrief, feedback, and development planning and intervention with their law school career services office. Recent law graduates can inquire about options with their employer’s professional development staff or office. If those inquiries do not bear fruit, or if such possibilities do not exist, then the law student and recent graduate will want to explore other options. Successful lawyers learn new things every day. They gain knowledge and information needed to get results. Translated in this context – law students and recent law graduates must help themselves when it comes to developing critical characteristics and foundations for practice deemed necessary in the short-term by legal employers.

Emotional intelligence training involves basic and applied instruction about emotions, moods, and feelings, taking an emotional intelligence assessment using a reliable and scientifically validated instrument administered by a qualified or certified professional, and assessment results interpretation and debriefing by a qualified emotional intelligence practitioner. The discussion about results can provide a foundation for a plan which addresses development opportunities revealed by the assessment. Following a period of time during which the development activities have occurred, results from a subsequent emotional intelligence assessment can reveal new discussion points for continued development.

Clinical or substantive law professors, while not automatically qualified to provide emotional intelligence instruction and training, can certainly learn about emotional intelligence and become qualified or certified emotional intelligence practitioners. Law school career services staff and law firm professional development team members can, too. But, the emotional intelligence instruction and skill training for law students or recent law graduates should stem from emotional intelligence assessment-based results, interpretation, debrief and feedback, and development planning and intervention. This suggested process for emotional intelligence instruction should have a practical side, i.e. the assessment-personal development process and intervention as described, and not just attending a lecture or two or scanning a series of assigned readings. Just about any person can learn about and develop emotional intelligence abilities or competencies.

Law students and recent law graduates should invest in themselves. Much turbulence exist in the legal sector employment environment. Beginning lawyers now will have a career with several stops at different employers along the way. Professor Pierson projected that can happen as many as seven times in a career. In essence, lawyers now act as free agents. Those who develop emotional intelligence skills should ride out the peaks and valleys better than those who do not invest in themselves and their career. Depending upon the practitioner involved and the emotional intelligence assessments selected, the process described here should take ten to twenty hours per year, in addition to an active reading and learning program, for a law student or a recent law school graduate. A qualified professional – an emotional intelligence practitioner – should guide the law student or recent law school graduate through the emotional intelligence instruction and skill training process.

Warning. Thousands of law students and recent law graduates need a strategy and tactics to get the gorilla – the financial impact and career derailing effects of certain deficiencies of modern American legal education – off their backs.

One thing that can help has been deemed relevant and important for the legal profession by the legal academy for over two decades: “training that strengthens the emotional intelligence skills needed in the practice of law”. Professor Pierson’s conclusion ends by stating in part that “The legal profession is in a state of creative destruction.” While segments of the American legal academy may perceive that “exciting opportunities” lie ahead for legal education, the track record of emotional intelligence instruction and training for law students and recent graduates should not for many instill encouragement and hope. Instead, they must learn about career adaptation skills, practice self-management, and become effective free agents, key survival skills for new lawyers.

This “Beyond the Blue Book” post has featured one tool – emotional intelligence – and has outlined a remedy process which can help law students and new lawyers deal with the “creative destruction” – the turbulence, uncertainty, stress, and seismic changes – occurring currently and likely to occur in the future legal marketplace.

For those interested, check out these posts on Psycholawlogy:

Beyond the “Blue Book”: Emotional Intelligence [EQ] Assessment as a Future Gatekeeper of Lawyer Effectiveness?

Beyond the “Blue Book” – Two Important “Soft Skills” Which Can Predict [Lawyer] Success in the 21st Century Workplace

Thank You.  Thank you very much. Dan DeFoe JD MS – Adlitem Solutions | Organization Development for Professional Services Firms and the Legal Profession: People. Projects. Practices |Web – | Email: | Blog – | Services – Organization Development Practitioner combining and leveraging 25+ years of diverse legal experience, 7+ years of allied health training and work experience, a Master of Science in Organizational Development Psychology, and educationally qualified or earned certifications in industry-leading normal (Myers-Briggs MBTI) and special business (Hogan Assessments) personality; ability (MSCEIT) and self-report (EQi 2.0 [derived from Bar-On model]) emotional intelligence; leadership (Certified Intentional Leadership Coach); and stress management assessment and tools (ARSENAL best practices system for stress resilient emotional intelligence) to partner with client organizations, their leaders, and member to discover needs and opportunities for growth and to design, develop, deliver, and evaluate custom interventions for individual, team, project, or organizational solutions. | Mission:  “America’s leading resource for normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, and related coaching, continuing education programs, training, and workshops for judges, lawyers, law schools, bar associations, healthcare, medical, and other professional services providers and their organizations and leaders.”  Please visit Adlitem Solutions and Psycholawlogy again soon. Thank you very much.

Complimentary Assessment: Contact me via email at to arrange a time for a no obligation discussion and assessment of your firm’s or firm members’ interests or needs regarding emotional intelligence workshops, training, continuing education, or coaching. See this related post at PsycholawlogyEmotional Intelligence Memo to Management: EI as a Buffer of [Lawyer] Stress in the Developmental Job Experience – for more information about taking first steps.

Article Sources: Montgomery, J. E. (2008). Incorporating emotional intelligence concepts into legal education: Strengthening the professionalism of law students. U. Tol. L. Rev., 39, 323 (copy currently available here);  Pierson, P. (2016). Economics, EQ, and Finance: The Next Frontier in Legal Education. Journal of Legal Education, 65(4), 864 (copy currently available here); Silver, M. A. (1999). Emotional intelligence and legal education. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 5(4), 1173 (copy currently available here)

Additional Sources: *The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System [IAALS] (2016). Foundations for Practice: The Whole Lawyer and Character Quotient (copy of report currently available at:

Image Credits: Slugs here | Gorilla here | Career compass roadmap here |

Dan DeFoe

Owner and Lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions
I'm an attorney with 20+ years of experience and have an MS degree in organizational development psychology. I provide normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, assessment interpretation and feedback, and professional development planning and training activities for lawyers, judges, other legal services providers, and their organizations.

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