Advice for Legal Interviews: Be Psychic

Okay, well maybe you don’t have to channel Miss Cleo to get legal employment these days.  But, in addition to the healthy dose of luck you’ll need, the legal career services world has created a brand new buzzword concept through which all prospective employees can be vetted: emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence, you ask?  Emotional intelligence, or as those trying to sound more professional than they really are might call it, “EI,” is the demonstrated ability to show, and practice, professional competence by providing good answers to hypothetical questions and connecting with interviewers. The idea behind the concept is that you are being hired not just for your legal acumen and ability to detect italicized commas in a document of hundreds of pages — you’re being hired to develop and maintain clients. What does this all boil down to?  Don’t be a jackass.

It’s hard to imagine why a new buzzword for an obvious concept like emotional intelligence even merits creation, but oddly enough, a JET alum probably possesses more of it than most law students, especially the rural JET alum.  There’s something about being the sole foreigner in a town that breeds the sort of thick skin capable of dealing with clients regardless of whether those clients are truly deserving of your empathy and advocacy, or whether they, let’s just say, suffer from a severe lack of emotional intelligence. Rural JET life is, in many ways, a true test of your personal “EI.”  It may be true that in  a legal interview you are outgunned by the experience of your interviewer, but at least you’re outgunned in your own language.  On JET, your schools and your community are akin to clients.  Their taxes are your salary at the end of the day, and they’re happiness with your presence is the ultimate determiner of where you end up on the scale of Immortal Super JET Hero, or in Utter Misery.

Of course, completely unaddressed in the article is the fact that law school may actually degrade emotional intelligence.  Three years of having your fate decided by ultimately petty distinctions (LSAT score, narrow grading curves, law journal write-on scores, the list goes on) can turn even the most most emotionally balanced and likable person into a petty, cut-throat monster. Not surprisingly, lawyers lead the professional world in depression and drug abuse. If “emotional intelligence” is going to be a significant factor in legal employment going forward, it might be worth it for law schools to consider whether their curriculum amounts to too much of an emotional lobotomy to ensure their students’ some degree of employment prospects.

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