Overcoming the Surprising Pitfalls of Intelligence, 0719 COBJ, Vol. 48, No. 7 Pg. 16

Position:Vol. 48, 7 [Page 16]

48 Colo.Law. 16

Overcoming the Surprising Pitfalls of Intelligence

Vol. 48, No. 7 [Page 16]

The Colorado Lawyer

July, 2019



The practice of law is not for the faint of heart. It requires a high level of both cognitive intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ). Skills that demonstrate IQ in our profession include tier-level thinking (used to play chess), quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and the ability to follow procedural rules, conduct legal research, write briefs, and craft persuasive arguments. While these skills are important, research suggests that it's actually our soft skills and EQ that are bigger predictors of success in our profession.1 Soft skills and EQ include time management, interpersonal communication, self-awareness (recognizing how you feel and how you are coming across to others), motivation (striving to grow and finding meaning, interest, and passion in your life), and self-regulation (managing difficult emotions).[2]

Despite personality differences among lawyers, everyone who practices law must have an above average IQ. But a high IQ alone does not correlate to being successful in "the pursuit of happiness." Our emotional and physical well-being depends on our ability to balance our cognitive brilliance with our EQ and interpersonal relationships.[3]

The Problem with Perfectionism

Intelligence is a gift, if used wisely. As with any gift, it is how we use, develop, and direct it that matters. If a high IQ leads to angst, loneliness, frustration, and anger, then we are hardly using it well. Considering that attorneys experience some of the highest rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse among professionals, something is clearly amiss. Individuals with higher academic degrees tend to be harder on themselves because they put more pressure on themselves to succeed, achieve, and perform. The need to justify one's intelligence and credentials increases as we "climb up the ladder." This contributes to perfectionistic and workaholic tendencies that unfortunately compromise our IQ and EQ and make us physically ill. Some examples of indulging in perfectionism and workaholism are:


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