Does a Lawyer’s High IQ Compensate for a Low EQ?

Emotional quotient (EQ), also known as emotional intelligence (EI), is defined as “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”[1] This capacity is crucial to many leadership competencies, not the least of which is influence, something “essential to leadership as a social skill in order to make progress and get things done through – and with – others.”[2]

 “You can’t order people to do what you want, you must persuade or inspire them to put forth their best efforts toward the clear objective you have defined.” – Daniel Goleman[3]

 Most of us have heard the term EQ used in general discussions about work interactions, and perhaps you’ve even experienced the negative personal impact of a low EQ in coworkers – specifically, those who manage others. In fact, low EQ in senior management can result in high turnover, an antagonistic work atmosphere, and low morale. In addition to making for a miserable work environment, low EQ in senior management can give rise to high attrition, which, at a replacement recruiting cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per lawyer, is no small problem.[4]

 And, as if that’s not enough, you might be surprised to know that insurers have begun to suspect that low EQ on the part of lawyers results in higher risk of malpractice claims, just as it’s been shown to do with doctors.[5]

But lawyers are smart, right? One would think their high IQs would allow them to recognize this problem easily and nip it in the bud!

Not necessarily. Studies have shown that while attorneys do score high in intelligence, they generally score below average in emotional intelligence.[6] It’s a perception that is, frustratingly, borne out frequently in fictional portrayals of the legal culture. For every “Atticus Finch” there are a dozen “Phillip Stuckeys” (Jason Alexander in Pretty Woman) or “Thomas Hagens” (Robert Duvall in The Godfather films).

So we know there is a problem. However, can you really improve your or anyone else’s EQ? As it turns out, you can.

According to the Harvard Business Review, one’s EQ capacity is “firm”, but not necessarily “rigid.” [7] By receiving coaching on interpersonal skills and how to manage stress levels, attorneys can indeed increase their EQs. In fact, studies suggest that, “with adequate training, people can become more pro-social, altruistic, and compassionate.” [8]

 As a bonus, it seems that EQ training for the workplace inescapably benefits the trainee’s personal life as well.

 So, it can be done! But how?

 Psychologists have broken down the concept of EQ into four separate skill sets. By consistently working on those skills, you and your colleagues can slowly but surely up your EQs.

  • Self-Awareness – i.e., the ability to grasp and understand your own emotional state. This requires you to acknowledge your triggers and realize when you are feeling angry or stressed. It sounds easy, but how often have you reacted to something in a way that was a tad over the top because you were stressed out about something else entirely? When you feel “off,” take a second and ask yourself why.

  • Self-Management – i.e., the ability to control your emotions. Once you’ve recognized your emotional state for what it is, you need to be able to manage it before it controls you. This is not complicated, but it can be challenging to have this kind of willpower. The old mantra “just take a deep breath” comes in handy here. If you can step back from yourself for even a second, you can gain perspective and more effectively manage your own emotions.

Combining the two skills above allows you to better manage stress by recognizing it for what it is. Once you have mastered that, you can separate your emotions from a problematic situation and calmly communicate possible solutions – whether to a fellow colleague or a client.

  • Empathy – i.e., the ability to identify emotions and reactions in others, regardless of how you feel. If you think you have trouble with this, focus on listening, observing, and asking questions. Look up from whatever document you are reviewing or case law you are trying to explain and zero in for a moment on the colleague or client with whom you are dealing. It’s easier than it seems and is often simply a matter of shifting focus for a short period. It’s highly important to be “present” when engaging with a colleague.

  • Ability to Build Relationships. This skill is essentially a combination of the previous three. Once you understand your own emotions and how to manage them and are aware of what’s going on with your colleague or client, you’ll be able to build a rapport with them that will allow them to trust you and your judgment. Be the person you would feel comfortable taking advice from.

Again, building your EQ is not complicated, but it does take persistence and dedication. Try to hone the above skills each day, and before you know it you will be a better leader and lawyer – not to mention friend, partner, and family member – for it.

[1] Emotional intelligence (noun). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from:

[2] Key Step Media (2017, August 8) How to Influence with Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from

[3] Key Step Media (2017, August 8) How to Influence with Emotional Intelligence. Quoting Influence: A Primer. Retrieved from

[4] Juetten, Mary (2017, August 14) Attorney Well-Being: Start with Emotional Intelligence, Law Practice Today. Retrieved from

[5] Muir, Rhonda (2015, June 13) The Psychology of Malpractice, Law People. Retrieved from

[6] (2017, September 26) How emotional intelligence makes you a better lawyer, YourABA. Retrieved from

[7] Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas (2013, May 29) Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

[8] Ibid.

The Role of the Legal Secretary

It has always been the case that by delegating certain tasks to a legal secretary, lawyers can free up valuable time for their clients and themselves. Furthermore, ensuring that tasks are handled by the lowest-cost resource at a firm saves lawyers time and clients money.  

However, the role of the legal secretary has changed substantially over the past two decades, predominantly due to the advent of the personal computer. Younger lawyers in particular are much more likely to type their own correspondence and legal documents than those of earlier generations, and digital files have in many instances made paper document management obsolete.  

 But, how much of a lawyer’s perceived “self-sufficiency” is actually a recipe for inefficiency? It’s worth considering. In fact, with a bit of training – mostly for lawyers – you may find that legal secretaries are as vital as ever in keeping you responsive to clients and as efficient as possible, regardless of your office size or practice area.  

 Delegating for Efficiency 

 It will come as no surprise that study after study has found that distractions are the enemy of workplace productivity. What if you could train yourself to delegate a variety of essentially administrative disruptions to someone you trust? You might be surprised at how much more legal work you accomplish in a day – not to mention how much earlier you can leave the office – when you’re not dealing with all the little things that just seem so easy to do yourself. 

 Below are some areas in which delegating to a good legal secretary can be invaluable: 

  • Certain Client Calls and E-mails. We’ve all been the client on the end of a frustrating customer service call or e-chat – unable to get a non-scripted human to help us. Legal secretaries can interact personally with clients to schedule meetings, answer basic questions about process, timing or billing, and even obtain client information. Having a trusted colleague able to answer the phone and respond quickly to e-mails will make clients feel valued and allow you to focus your energy on actual legal work for those clients. 

  • Marketing. If you’ve ever found yourself wasting precious hours trying to format a PowerPoint presentation for a speaking engagement, navigate your firm’s Facebook page, or print labels for a mailing, you know what a distraction marketing can be. Everything from marketing material preparation to social media engagement to your client holiday cards can be handled by your legal secretary. 

  • Mail and Package Receipt/Delivery. If you open your mail over your recycling bin because most of it ends up there, you know there must be a more efficient use of your time. Your legal secretary can prioritize incoming mail and packages for you, as well as prepare your outgoing mail and arrange any required messenger deliveries. 

  • Finance and Expenses. Invoicing and billing can take an extraordinary amount of time each month, as can organizing receipts for taxes and/or reimbursement. General billing can be handled by your legal secretary, as can documenting your client, CLE, and other expenses. 

  • Filing and Organizing. So much of the paperwork we handle now is digital, but that doesn’t mean it requires less organization. An overwhelming number of document drafts can be accumulated by sometimes even the smallest transaction or case. Plus, now that so much communication is done via e-mail instead of by phone, maintaining organized and easily accessible document and e-mail filing systems is crucial to an efficient practice. 

  • Research. Any legal secretary should be able to perform basic research on press coverage of a new law, details about a new client, or information on an opposing counsel for you. And, depending upon the size of your office and type of practice, your legal secretary might even be able to check legal citations via Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis, saving you from scrolling through data. 

Above are just a few examples of the types of things legal secretaries should be handling to help keep your office running smoothly. With today’s fast-paced digital world, lawyers are expected to respond to all variety of communication thoroughly and often at lightning speed. The days of “snail mail” and having the luxury of time to review documents and formulate strategies is long gone. A good legal secretary will allow you to recapture some of that precious time, benefitting you and your clients.