Emotion Regulation for Lawyers: A Mind Is a Challenging Thing to Tame

26 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2015 Last revised: 25 Mar 2017

See all articles by Debra S. Austin

Debra S. Austin

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Rob Durr

Northwestern University

Date Written: December 4, 2015


Legal scholars have become increasingly concerned about the outlook of the profession in the last decade. Not only is it considered one of the unhappiest professions, but lately it has become more challenging than ever to find quality work for good pay. Given the current employment climate, coupled with the price tag for a legal education, fewer of the brightest young minds are interested in a legal career, leaving law schools and the legal profession acutely concerned about lawyer wellbeing and performance. These two key outcome measures for lawyers, wellbeing and performance, are intricately connected and are a growing focus of law schools and firms. The legal profession is evaluating training in Emotional Intelligence (EI) and Emotion Regulation (ER) strategies, as a framework for developing intra-personal and interpersonal-skills, to improve the wellbeing crisis and equip law students and lawyers with the necessary tools to manage their careers as savvy, sustainable professionals.

The inclusion of EI in the law school curriculum is counter to the traditional legal culture where the focus has been on “thinking like” not “feeling like” a lawyer. A mention of emotion in most law circles will cause a deafening silence to befall the room. Yet several disciplines in the social and biological sciences are producing gold standard research outcomes showing the critical role emotions play in performance, health, and overall success. Research shows the potent role emotions and affective processes play in law school and the legal process. Modern psychological science teaches us that emotions help professionals to focus attention, make decisions, enhance memory, provide vital social cues, and embrace change.

Law schools are decades behind business schools and years behind medical education in expanding the curriculum to include emotional and social competencies. Business schools have been assessing for EI in the admission process for years. Yale’s School of Management uses a measure in the application to screen for emotion management. Law schools have started to introduce mindfulness, mental health, EI, wellbeing, and/or leadership programs. Some law faculty are growing concerned about developing law student people skills, resilience, and interpersonal savvy in response to law firms who want to hire smart people with strong interpersonal skills. The message is clear that firms want client or practice ready graduates. Despite growing acceptance of the importance of managing emotions in legal study and work, and a robust body of literature highlighting the predictive validity of EI for several key law outcomes such as health and performance, an alarming deficit in focus on emotion in legal education and scholarship persists. The majority of articles and books on the topic for law have merely skimmed the surface and not gone deeper into assisting the profession to develop a sound understanding of how EI plays out in field. The purpose of this paper is to begin to fill that gap by going deeper into one of the essential skills of EI, Emotion Regulation (ER). In this paper we provide an overview of EI, summarize key research, define emotion and ER, describe the neurological underpinnings of ER, and then introduce empirically-supported strategies for ER, specifically mindfulness meditation.

Suggested Citation

Austin, Debra S. and Durr, Rob, Emotion Regulation for Lawyers: A Mind Is a Challenging Thing to Tame (December 4, 2015). 16 Wyo. L. Rev. 387 (2016)., U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-60, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2699330

Debra S. Austin (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

Rob Durr

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics