Career Woman

New focus on emotional intelligence (EQ) in the law industry


As we barrel headlong into 2019, an exciting new style of law practice is taking shape. Flexible, dynamic, and emotionally intelligent, these next-gen lawyers are putting their clients’ needs first and are the driving force behind the NewLaw movement.

In founding Peripheral Blue, I’ve set out to disrupt the traditionally heavily-gendered legal model, bucking centuries-old industry tradition in favour of a fresh approach.

I am proud to be part of a movement across Australia towards embracing the humanity in the client-adviser dynamic, capitalising on a few stereotypically ‘female’ qualities to really shake things up.

Stereotypes, grains of truth

In Law, many big firms are coming under fire for many of their old traditions, notably the pressure of billable hours targets and cut-throat hierarchies, limited opportunities for lawyers to balance their lives outside of work, and lack of recognition, praise, and internal mentoring. The list goes on.

Sounds rough, right? It was. It took me nearly twenty years keeping pace in these firms before deciding that the traditional model was broken, and resolving that there must be a better way of doing things.

It’s critical that the industry moves beyond the never-ending race by lawyers to bill hours. Sure, working long hours and occasional weekends is always going to be necessary, but take away the personal billable hour targets, and the pressure is gone.

What clients want (Hint: it is what you think)

Newsflash! Clients don’t simply want legal advice from their lawyer. They want a partner to collaborate with for the legal and commercial advisory support they need, when – and where – they need it.

By taking a more collaborative approach modern lawyers have at their fingertips an opportunity to bridge the gap between simply being service providers, to being trusted thought partners, building deeper relationships with clients in the process.

When a service provider makes a genuine investment in the client-adviser relationship, they will be able to learn more about their clients and their commercial challenges, goals, and objectives, which in turn will enable them to provide better, more holistic advice and support.

Everybody wins.

Bend and stretch – flexibility is paramount

I’ve built my firm around offering truly flexible work arrangements, a major turnaround from the ‘2,000+ hours per year’ legal model championed in years gone by.

The benefits for staff from this new approach are obvious – with a more flexible workplace comes a greater sense of autonomy, of agency over their roles and professional careers, and an improved work-life integration.

This is especially so for women and mothers, most of whom, despite in-roads in recent years, still bear the heavy load of domestic and child-rearing responsibilities.

Every employee is on a personal journey of their own, and it’s vital that workplaces recognise this.

EQ meets IQ

Underpinning every commercial arrangement or business deal, should be the willingness of staff to understand and engage with clients on an emotional level.

An emotionally intelligent lawyer is not just an adviser. He or she is someone who is able to navigate and nurture diverse and complex human relationships along with commercial aims, who cares about taking time to really understand the client’s business and individual circumstances and needs.

Emotionally intelligent leadership is paramount. Whether large or small, you alone set the overall emotional tone for your company, the culture of which has a direct impact on productivity.

Leadership, take it from the top

Your leadership style determines your ability to innovate and manage change, the team’s productivity and efficiency, and sets a benchmark for everyone’s professional success and overall wellbeing.

Lawyers have typically been taught to remove emotion from their interactions and relationships with clients. As students and graduates, we learn to deal with facts, not people. Coached to maintain a professional distance from clients, the relationship between businesses and their lawyers has historically been based on a strictly ‘vendor-client’ dynamic.

Not anymore! By putting the client at the centre of the equation, the dynamic is enhanced and real relationships have the chance to grow. Young lawyers – indeed, anyone in business – now have the opportunity to provide the highest calibre of advice possible from within an invigorating new culture, and this energy will be reflected every day in their engagement with and the results being delivered for clients.

About Melissa Larkin

Melissa Larkin is the Founder and Managing Director of Peripheral Blue Legal and Peripheral Blue Consulting. In launching this firm in 2016, her aim was to disrupt the legal and professional services industries by giving clients access to top tier, yet flexible, affordable and responsive legal and advisory services. A graduate of Flinders University, Mellissa has worked at high profile firms in Australia and internationally, having completed her Masters in Law at Trinity College, Dublin. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and three children. LinkedIn:

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