I ran across a great article this morning which stresses how “Emotional intelligence is the new benchmark to a successful legal career.”  Alison Bernard and Niki Kopsidas of Fried Frank collaborated on the article “How High Is Your ‘EI’?” in the New York Law Journal’s “Special Report: Law Schools“. Bernard and Kopsidas lay out a path for law students to follow to help them traverse the additional elements that law firms are now looking for in their incoming associates. Firms are starting to look beyond a high class ranking at an Ivy League law school when looking at candidates.

To be a successful attorney in this economy, it is imperative to not only be an expert in a legal field, but to also offer superlative client service and maintain client relationships.

The article goes on to discuss what law firm recruiters need to start focusing on when interviewing candidates.  Grades and pedigree are starters, but other factors such as “social and emotional competencies… being flexible, adaptable, creative, empathetic, self-aware, optimistic, confident and self-motivated, and the ability to persevere, exert self-control, display good judgment, influence and get along with others” are critical to seeing the candidate’s potential.

Skipping over the what do to during interviews and while in law school sections, I liked how the article finished on what associates need to focus on when they actually start working. There are a number of opportunities for new lawyers to work on their ‘hard skills’ through the firm’s professional development training in order to learn the “practicing law” part of the job (although as we mentioned this week, sometimes a little ‘retraining’ needs to take place). Bernard and Kopsidas stress that new associates should also work to develop those “soft skills” that “cover how to be a professional at a client service organization.”

I’d argue that many firms don’t stress “hard” or “soft” skills enough. Many times it seems that the process of training is to push associates into the deep end of the pool and expect them to start swimming. Other professional services, such as the big four accountant firms, have training that goes on for weeks before they allow their new employees to start working on their clients’ matters. Perhaps this model should start working its way over from the BigFour to BigLaw.

Even though this article was written from the perspective of a law firm Director of Attorney Development and a Director of Legal Recruitment, you could apply most of the ideas across almost any industry that provides a service to its customer.