New Article: An Inconvenient Truth: The Need to Educate Emotionally Competent Lawyers

Professor Robin Wellford Slocum from Chapman University School of Law posted an article on SSRN entitled An Inconvenient Truth: The Need to Educate Emotionally Competent Lawyers. The article is a very interesting read on the importance of teaching emotional competence as opposed to teaching emotional detachment. Particularly, the paper addresses the four “domains” of emotional competency (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management) and how teaching students to develop each domain through skills training will create better prepared attorneys:

[W]e cannot expect our students to fully grasp the “bigger picture” or to appreciate the practical significance of their legal strategies if they share their future clients’ limited understanding of human behavior and their narrow worldviews. Absent some understanding of the complex nature of human behavior and how the emotional brain drives decision-making, students cannot fully appreciate how their clients, judges, juries or opposing counsel are likely to respond to their legal arguments or strategies.

Interestingly, the paper is not only about addressing the emotional needs of clients, but legal strategy and preparation for communication with the opposition as well. We do not realize in real time that our thought process is corrupted by emotions, but the article suggests that corruption awareness is trainable by pointing out “red-flags”. Such training would be useful, for example, in an exchange with opposing counsel where anger can cause the brain to activate pre-programmed responses rather than allowing for a rational argument on a point. Emotional competence seeks to prevent anger responses and promote rationality.

Read the article and tell us what you think!

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4 Responses

  1. Good article. We need to do much more to help law students – and those considering law school – to be aware of their own strengths and personality traits as well as emotional styles. I teach “Well-being in the Practice of Law” at Duke, and we examine these issues in some detail. I support the author’s main point that being a true professional requires much more of a person than bloodless analysis. I would have liked to see her discuss in greater detail cognitive behavioral efforts to train persons to challenge thinking patterns, or the work positive psychologists are doing in this regard with the US Army (I have a post on how this might apply to lawyers in the American Lawyer online if you want to check it out), but overall a step in the right direction.

  2. Professors Slocum and Bowling’s advocacy for training in and for emotional competence reminds us all that being a successful lawyer required so much more than the required core coursework. I’m in the process of reading Juris Types (Martha and Don Peters), an accessible introduction (for law students!) to the role of learning types in maximizing law school success. In addition to learning-type awareness, attention in law schools to emotional competence could further not just the self-knowledge if law students, but could also help them, once lawyers, develop skills to ‘stay in the game,’ avoiding the pitfalls of substance abuse, exhaustion, depression, and eventual withdrawal from the profession. In addition, a more emotionally-competent bar may very well support more pro bono activities that are so desperately needed, especially in these trying times.

  3. It is wonderful to see that teachers and scholars are recognizing that we must think about teaching students to become lawyers who will be successful practictioners as well as whole people. There is a certain loss of self that can occur to those who train and practice in the law. The challenges of law practice can also cause some lawyers to engage in unhealthy behaviors to cope with stress and emotions that may be triggered through working on difficult problems and situations involving conflict. Emotional competence training is another path to well-being for lawyers.

  4. […] Kevin Ramakrishna highlights one of the key takeaways in a discussion of Robin Wellford Slocum’s  2011 article “An Inconvenient Truth: The Need to Educate Emotionally Competent Lawyers”: [W]e cannot expect our students to fully grasp the “bigger picture” or to appreciate the practical significance of their legal strategies if they share their future clients’ limited understanding of human behavior and their narrow worldviews. Absent some understanding of the complex nature of human behavior and how the emotional brain drives decision-making, students cannot fully appreciate how their clients, judges, juries or opposing counsel are likely to respond to their legal arguments or strategies. […]

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