The year 2020 has been marked with an abundance of questions and concerns, from those related to COVID-19, the movement for racial justice, the U.S. presidential election, the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to the general state of American patriotism.
Lawyers are crucial to discussions of legal precedence in these cases, particularly in understanding how to create, enforce, analyze, and interpret laws in order to bring about social change and justice.
At this time, a lawyer’s best tool — more than any rule of law — is to perform their jobs with empathy. Not surprisingly, law firms and multinational legal companies today are heavily investing money and resources in hiring emotionally intelligent (EQ) lawyers.
Using EQ in remote lawyering
The ways that lawyers can increase their emotional intelligence and use it as a skill when practicing law remotely brings an added level of complexity to an already challenging situation. The added element of demonstrating empathy in a virtual world takes on even more importance, especially for lawyers and especially in the areas discussed above. For lawyers, it was always a best practice to:
- Ask the right questions — When working on cases pertaining to discrimination and harassment and interviewing people with very personal stories, EQ can be a particular useful tool in building a relationship of trust. To show empathy, lawyers should ask more emotionally-relative questions, such as “Can you tell me about the circumstances and how this situation made you feel?” versus simply asking “What happened?”
- Listen more and speak less — In the early part of a client relationship where trust is still being established, listening is imperative to understanding the client’s perspective. Then, you can continue to ask “Why?” or say “Please, tell me more” to ensure you get to the root cause of the problem. It’s important to make sure the client feels that they could come to their lawyer with anything, from the first day to the last day. And lawyers can do this by listening intently and centering the conversation on their situation.
- Be cautious in giving your legal perspective to a client too early — This is key for situations where the client has experienced an emotionally charged or triggering experience, hardship, or harassment.
Connecting in digital spaces
Establishing rapport with a client remotely has become a challenge during the pandemic. Despite this, lawyers should double-down on the above-mentioned tips, in addition to shutting down their email, putting away their phone, and eliminating other distractions. Other tools that lawyers should use include:
- Understand your client’s boundaries — For example, your client may not feel comfortable in being on camera during your meeting, especially when speaking about something personal and difficult. Remind them that they do not need to be on video and that they should do what is comfortable for them. This is imperative to help create a virtually hospitable environment.
- Practice gratitude — This is important both with your clients and your co-workers. Thank them for virtually attending any meetings that you schedule.
- Communicate effectively on next steps — Lawyers should get in the habit of ending their calls with a short summary on what was covered in the call and any next steps that are required. This helps bridge the gap on any pending items and reminds people of their individual responsibilities and the timeline going forward.
In addition, it is critical that attorneys raise their level of self-awareness by focusing on how they “show up.” That means being aware of how they are perceived by colleagues, and being mindful of not only what they say to others but how they say it, particularly with non-verbal communication.
Further, lawyers should ensure that their own personal well-being is at a level that will allow them to be present and 100% focused on their clients — this is even more important during these challenging times. Using such tools as mindfulness, exercise, and separating your work space from your home space enable strong emotional fitness and resilience.
David Sarnoff, an executive leadership coach with Loeb Leadership, said that “self-awareness is the cornerstone to nurturing and cultivating high-trust working relationships, which contributes to the overall success of the team.”
Today, more than ever, that “team” includes clients.