On Monday, February 11, SPEAK hosted “What’s Your EQ? The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Legal Profession,” a panel discussion on the need to develop and increase emotional intelligence while in law school in order to be better prepared to enter the workforce. The featured speakers were:
Greg Gorospe, a partner at Jones Day, focusing on real estate law and corporate finance
Susan Tobin, Ohio Legal Rights Services General Counsel
Christopher Walker, Assistant Professor of Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, focusing on constitutional litigation and administrative law
The event was moderated by Moritz 3L Nicole Chatham, who set the tone for the event by introducing the audience to the concept of emotional intelligence as it relates to both law school and the workplace. In doing so, she noted that the goal of SPEAK is to foster communication among and between the faculty and students of Moritz and that, in preparing for this event, she was struck by how well the development of emotional intelligence aligns with the organization’s goals. Further, this concept is highly important to employers right now. Studies have shown that a manager’s level of emotional intelligence is correlated with the productivity of the division of a company she is responsible for. A division led by a manager with a high level of emotional intelligence can overperform by up to 20%, whereas a division led by a manager with a low level of emotional intelligence can underperform by up to 20%.
First, the panelists were asked to discuss their personal backgrounds and how their experiences had developed their perception of emotional intelligence.
Ms. Tobin and Mr. Gorospe evolved the discussion by reflecting on their childhood experiences. Ms. Tobin noted that she grew up in Cleveland during a time when the city was ahead of its time in terms of becoming racially diverse. She observed that a major issue the city was forced to overcome was kids coming from different areas into integrated elementary schools. Further, she faced challenges in terms of gender discrimination head-on, as she was the first female to try out for men’s tennis team in high school. These experiences meant that, early on, she developed a sense of social justice and injustice. Mr. Gorospe spoke about the challenges his father faced as a pathologist in Warren, OH. He came from the Philippines into a community where there wasn’t a large Asian population.
Professor Walker suggested that emotional intelligence is something you learn by trial and error. To illustrate this point, he used examples from his own life. In high school, he put on a “diversity week” in collaboration with his classmates, coming away believing the event to have been successful. Later, the school newspaper published a letter asking how the school could celebrate Asian American cultural day on December 7,
He also tied emotional intelligence into the concept of “learned fundamental attribution differences.” In short, this phenomenon occurs when someone else does something that offends us. When they do so, we have a tendency to ascribe a moral deficit to them. Understanding and working around this belief is integral to success in the legal system.
Next, the panelists discussed professional experiences that they’ve had that were affected by emotional intelligence or a lack thereof. Ms. Tobin said that she deals with people lacking in emotional intelligence on a regular basis, given that her agency advocates for people with disabilities and the widespread stigma and devaluation of people with disabilities. She tied this in to the reaction to the school shooting in Newtown, CT and the assumption that people suffering from mental illness are more dangerous than the rest of the population. She also cited the use of seclusion rooms by Columbus City Schools to deal with children who have emotional disturbances and other disabilities. Professor Walker discussed a trial where he represented Isreali corporation against an American corporation. The counsel for the American corporation talked in the opening statement about how Professor Walker’s client client was from Israel and their base of operations was in Tel Aviv. Therefore, the firm was “taking jobs from Americans.” In short, the attorney presented a xenophobic case for why they should win, which violates common standards of emotional intelligence. Mr. Gorospe spoke about an incident that occurred when the economy collapsed. A young associate who historically performed well eventually stopped coming to work because of lack of assignments coming in due to economy. It turned in to a teaching moment for older associates, when Mr. Gorospe examined the driving factors of his behavior. He had always been successful and couldn’t understand why work wasn’t coming his way. After addressing the situation, the associate’s performance improved markedly.
The panelists also discussed the consequences that lack of emotional intelligence can have in the workplace. Ms. Tobin said that a lack of emotional intelligence will cause productivity to go down. At times, people are promoted for reasons other than emotional intelligence, which later negatively impacts the organization because their managers don’t have that skill when leading their employees people. Professor Walker stated that culturally competent leaders are better at what they do because that skill leads to more creativity and more empathy. Mr. Gorospe noted that lawyers have a very low level of emotional intelligence in comparison to other professions. Given that law is a customer-based industry, he said this can have devastating effects on productivity. Lawyers are generally resistant to change, which may be impacting the effectiveness of large law firms. Middle market firms are the most successful right now, which may be because their size promotes quicker change.
After taking a number of audience questions, another SPEAK event came to a close. We’d like to thank all of the audience members in attendance, the SPEAK executive board for their work in preparation for the event, and, most importantly, our wonderful speakers for contributing their valuable insight to this important discussion.