Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

Incorporating Emotional Intelligence in Legal Education: A Theoretical Perspective

Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

Incorporating Emotional Intelligence in Legal Education: A Theoretical Perspective

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

'Thinking like a lawyer' is traditionally associated with rational-analytical problem solving and an adversarial approach to conflict. These features have been correlated with problems of psychological, or emotional, distress amongst lawyers and law students. These problems provide a strong argument for incorporating a consideration of emotion into legal education. How to achieve this is a challenge for legal educators. Addressing that challenge, it is argued that emotional intelligence (EI) provides an existing and useful conceptual framework for acknowledging and incorporating emotion into legal education and practice. Advantages in adopting EI are argued. Goleman's model of EI is identified as the most readily accessible model for EI in law. Goleman's model is adapted and applied to clinical legal education as an optimal site for introducing law students to EI.

Keywords: emotional intelligence, legal education, wellbeing, reflective practice.

Introduction

Emotional intelligence (EI) is about understanding the emotions we experience as individuals, and those of the people we relate to in such a way as to positively guide thinking and behaviour. Incorporating EI into legal curricula extends traditional legal education beyond its two dominant features, namely, an emphasis on rational-analytic problem solving and an adversarial approach to conflict. These features are integral to the traditional notion of 'thinking like a lawyer' (Sullivan et al, 2007; Mertz, 2007). The dominance of these features in law has been correlated with problems of psychological distress in law students and practitioners. These apparent threats to wellbeing draw critical attention to the need for legal educators to better equip students to meet the challenges that emotions play in professional practice. How to approach incorporating emotion into a legal curriculum becomes the challenge for legal educators. This article seeks to address that challenge by advancing emotional intelligence as an existing conceptual framework for emotion, drawn from positive psychology, which can be applied to legal practice and education. Specifically Goleman's (2004, 1995, 1998) model of EI is proposed as a suitable model and applied to clinical legal education.

Discussion is divided into three parts. In the first part, research that investigates the prevalence of psychological distress amongst lawyers and law students is reviewed. The extent to which this research establishes that 'thinking like a lawyer' causes emotional distress is then examined. Evidence of the negative impact of neglecting emotion in the law is argued as an impetus for incorporating EI in legal education. In the second part, the nature of emotional intelligence is examined and justified as a conceptual framework for incorporating emotion into legal education. Three advantages of using emotional intelligence as a conceptual framework for law are argued. In the final section Goleman's model of EI is applied to reflective practice in clinical legal education.

Thinking like a lawyer: a threat to wellbeing?

The Council of Australian Law Dean's (CALD) standards for law schools provide that law schools are committed to and promote the well-being of staff (2009, cl 4.3.4) and that a:

"law school's commitment to sound educational methods and outcomes
includes a commitment to, and the adoption of practical measures to
promote student well-being, with particular reference to mental health
and awareness of mental health issues." (2009, cl 2.9.1)

Wellbeing is generally equated with psychological wellbeing and a lack of wellbeing with psychological distress, exhibited by depression, anxiety and or stress. Wellbeing involves positive emotional states such as happiness, excitement and satisfaction.

Concern for the wellbeing of law students, legal academics and legal practitioners gained momentum in Australia following publication in 2009 of Courting the Blues: Attitudes towards depression in Australian law students and lawyers, by the Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI) of the University of Sydney (Kelk et al, 2009). …

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