Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Top Dallas Lawyer Has Solid Gold Intuition


It's an article in "Texas Super Lawyers" and it's subtitled "Charla Aldous finds her way to big-money cases by listening to her heart."

Aldous is a Dallas attorney who, according to the article by Rose Niker, has been in D Magazine's "Best Lawyers in Dallas" four times, and has made the Super Lawyer list of both the Top 100 attorneys and Top 50 female lawyers statewide, has had verdicts and settlements topping more than $675 million at the time of the writing (2005).

You'd think they'd be touting her "toughness," or "grasp of legal subtleties” wouldn't you? Well, it seems times have changed. Working in the field of emotional intelligence, where intuition is one of the competencies, and the one most often questioned, this article caught my eye.

It was affirming to read, even exciting. The article is peppered with phrases like "following her heart", and "feeling like she belonged" for the first time in her life (when she stood before a jury), and her defense that being "emotionally involved" in a case was where she needed to be, not something to apologize for.

Emotions give us information, and clearly she understands hers and knows how to use the information they provide. The article cites her growing anger upon reviewing a case about a doctor refused hospital privileges after years of perfect performance. It was her motivation for taking the case. She went on to win it, and it remains a landmark re: honest peer review v. politicking in the medical profession.

It's wonderful to see articles like this, where the "soft" skills are brought into focus. It's fairly safe to assume that any lawyer who makes it through law school and passes the Boards is competent in the "hard" skills - knowing how to write a brief, plead a case, fill out the time sheet. But perhaps the ones who excel, who go for the gold, like Aldous, are the ones with emotional intelligence skills to go along with their IQ, training, and knowledge of the law.

Part of every job is relationship, and part of every job is using words to influence others. Our ability to express ourselves is important, and of course "we" are our "feelings." It's our ability to understand and express emotions (or to choose not to) that gives the edge, because no important argument is "won" by data and facts. The data is always ambivalent. It always runs out. Everyone has their own prospectus, and they always have data to support it. So what do you do?

If we want someone to accept our opinion, we need to move them to our position. "Move" and "emotion" and "motivation" all come from the same root word. It is emotions that motivate, or move us. You can argue facts till you are blue in the face, and have no effect (or the opposite of the one you intend), but if you can touch the person's heart, you can change their mind. Or rather they will change it, which is what you want. A begrudging agreement with tacit defiance is not what we want. It is worse than overt defiance because it will be acted upon, but with sabotage, let's say UNmindful malice aforethought. You will have lip service only, like the teenager who proceeds, under duress, to do the dishes, and then breaks a few, just to let you know, and/or hoping to be forbidden from doing the task in the future, or loads the dishwasher but "forgets" to put the soap in. You have not won him over, you have only exercised force, and the long-term ill effect will not make up for the short-term compliance.

A deep knowledge of people and of one's own heart, which is what EQ is all about, will give muscle to your words, important for connecting, important for arguing, and I mean "arguing" in the neutral sense - presenting a case, saying who you are, saying what you want.

EQ starts with self-awareness, not awareness of the "ego" self, but of your emotions. From this comes understanding the emotions of others, and the ability to express emotions. With this ability, you can go to the core and mine the gold, not scrape fool's gold off the surface. Thus, perhaps, the "solid gold intuition"? Intuition allows you to read people, to read between the lines, to see the writing on the wall, where all the important information is. It is "knowing without knowing how you know" and it is exponentially faster and more accurate than cognition. It is also your only recourse for the most important decisions in life, like whom to marry, what career to choose, where to retire, or when to pull the plug.

As a parent who has lost a child, I was particularly touched by Aldous' closing argument to the jury in a $268.6 million medical malpractice suit she won when a child died in hospital When my child died, also in hospital, I remember it as a time when people around me wanted to hear me say something, to put words to it. They also wanted to offer theirs and I wanted to hear them. I remember it well, and I remember it as a time of resounding silence. Why? Hear what Aldous had to say to the jury:

"If you lose a spouse you're a widow or a widower. If you lose your parents you're an orphan. But the loss of a child is so profound that there is not a word in the English language to describe you."

And the rest is silence.

Or, as someone said, "It all depends upon how you interpret the silence around you."

Intuition is our tool for interpreting that silence, which really is full of messages if you know how to read them. Intuition is an ability we all have; it's just a matter of welcoming it, developing it, and learning how to interpret your own variety. I help clients with this all the time. It is not magical (except in its results), it's based on your past experiences and knowledge, on implicit memory. Some of us are better than others, but all of us can improve.

How did Aldous know what to say to that jury? She mentions that her background, her upbringing in a small town, and having known all sorts of people, gave her the ability to relate to people from all walks of life. I would imagine too, looking in her own heart, and being a parent herself.

It's somewhat more fashionable to call it "psycho-drama" - this putting oneself in the shoes of the other person. If you do it in your head, without moving bodies around, it's empathy, another EQ competency.

Develop your EQ. Then you, too, can go for the gold.

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