Emotional competency – why lawyers need it

Guest post by Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of LawCare

Rimmer: Law firms and chambers should play their role in helping to change the working culture

Leaders from across the legal community held a roundtable discussion earlier this month to talk about emotional competency in legal practice and education.

The legal professions wellbeing taskforce, which brings together professional bodies, legal educators and regulators, organised the event. The goal was to start a dialogue about how emotions influence our behavior and decision making in the workplace and that understanding and managing these may help to improve lawyer wellbeing.

The panel, chaired by James Pereira QC, author of the regular column ‘Loving legal life’ in The Lawyer, explored what emotional competency is and why lawyers need it.

The ability to think, reason and analyse are skills that are well developed and taught in legal education and practice. Lawyers tend to think that disconnecting from their emotions is important in the practice of law, as emotional responses may cloud their objective legal reasoning.

Emotional competency is the ability to recognise your own emotions and those of others, to best guide your thoughts, decisions and actions. Developing emotional competency enables lawyers to understand their emotional responses to work issues, to work better with others and builds trust in relationships with colleagues and clients.

In the evolving legal profession of the 21st century, there is no doubt that these skills are becoming more important. Yet there is little value attached to developing them during legal education, training and practice.

The panel agreed that there should be greater collaboration between regulators and legal educators about how emotional competency could be taught at law schools and during work based training routes into legal practice.

It is imperative that graduates and those coming into the profession via work-based learning are as prepared as they can be for the real world of legal work, and addressing emotional competency formally on the curriculum would go some way to help this.

There is a lot of negative emotion in law: the work is often about winning or losing, or looking for the worst-case scenario; the working culture is competitive; long hours are the norm; meeting the expectations of clients in the 24/7 world is demanding. These are all factors that can contribute to stress and poorer wellbeing.

Lawyers who are able to understand their emotional response to these factors will be better equipped to manage the pressures of work.

Whilst the panel agreed that lawyers need better resources to support them at law school, in training and beyond with their emotional competency, law firms and chambers should play their role in helping to change the working culture of the legal profession.

Senior leaders have a responsibility to promote wellbeing and good mental health at work. For many people, the way they are treated by their line manager and the behavior of the leaders in their organisation makes an enormous difference to how they feel about themselves and their work.

We need to better educate lawyers at all stages of their legal careers to understand and manage the workplace pressures they can face. Developing the emotional competency of legal professionals will go someway towards this.

The Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce is a cross-profession taskforce set up in 2016 to promote and support good mental health and wellbeing across the legal community.

Members of the taskforce include: the Law Society, LawCare, the Bar Council, the SRA, CILEx, CILEx Regulation, CILEx Law School, the Law Society’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, the Institute of Paralegals, the University of Law, BPP, Newcastle University, the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society, the Young Barristers Committee, the Judicial Office, and the Bar Standards Board.

If you need to talk to someone contact LawCare on 0800 279 6888 or visit the website for help and support

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