Bench + Bar of Minnesota

Well-being and emotional intelligence are business development tools

By Kendra Brodin 

As a lawyer, it can be easy to see your legal practice as a place to escape feelings. Many of us fail to understand that human emotion is a huge part of the work itself; we did not learn much about emotional intelligence and well-being in law school.

If you want to build a successful and sustainable practice, you need a strategy for business development that factors your well-being into the big picture. Without a plan to maintain and nourish your well-being, growing your business can bring quick burnout. 

Let’s take a deep dive into how well-being, emotional intelligence, and business development can work together, why the combination is so critical for success, and how to use these insights to elevate your day-to-day practice. 

What is well-being?

Many of us are quick to focus solely on growing our business, assuming we will have time to think about our well-being after we have “made it.” But we should view the concepts of well-being and business development as co-counsels working toward the same goal. 

Well-being can feel like a fuzzy concept at first, so let’s make it more concrete. In its 2017 report, “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being,” the National Taskforce on Lawyer Well-Being defined well-being “as a continual process in which lawyers strive for thriving” in each of the following areas: emotional; occupational; creative or intellectual; spiritual; physical; and social. 

Well-being doesn’t just impact how you feel about your job; it also impacts how effectively you do the work. As “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being” reminded us, “Lawyer well-being is part of a lawyer’s ethical duty of competence.” Without an ongoing dedication to well-being, you not only risk your quality of life, but you jeopardize your ability to make sound decisions on behalf of your clients. 

Despite our “all business, all the time” culture, the best business development strategies incorporate well-being. There are several ways that well-being can foster career advancement and business growth. 

Why well-being matters for business growth 

Many of my clients are nervous about business development because they think it feels “sales-y.” But that’s not the case at all. Done well, connecting with potential and current clients can feel genuine, warm, and natural, and that’s exactly what makes it so effective.

When you prioritize your well-being, you empower yourself to be more adept at: 

  • Making connections. Networking is an essential part of your job. It can help you discover new opportunities and attract new clients to your practice. When you prioritize your well-being, you give yourself the necessary physical and mental bandwidth to forge genuine connections with new and existing clients.
  • Introducing yourself. When you’re “making the ask” for business, you’ll want to sound spontaneous and authentic while you convey the specific ways you can help. When you feel confident in your career and your abilities, offering your skills and services becomes a natural next step in any business relationship. 
  • Feeling fulfilled. Clients are not the only ones who deserve a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Lawyers do, too. When you are passionate about and engaged in your work, it shows, and clients are drawn to your passion for what you do. 
  • Overcoming challenges. Will rejection sometimes sting? Of course, even when we tell ourselves “it’s just business.” Strengthening your self-confidence and interpersonal skills helps you avoid interpreting rejection as a ruling on your self-worth.

Emotional intelligence is rocket fuel for well-being

One of the most important tools you need to build business while maintaining and protecting your well-being is emotional intelligence (EQ). 

Yes, building a sustainable practice requires a high IQ (odds are that your IQ is above average by nature of the fact that you are an attorney—it takes a certain IQ level to get into and through law school and the bar exam). But EQ is the type of intellect that will empower you to grow without sacrificing your well-being. EQ is IQ’s more likable sibling. It’s your ability to recognize and navigate emotions. People gravitate toward lawyers with high EQ even when they are not quite sure why. 

The legal profession requires you to manage your own emotions while you counsel people with intense positions, feelings, and opinions. Understanding and responding to your feelings and the feelings of others with empathy and self-awareness is what EQ is all about. 

You have probably met a few attorneys who seem like they were born with magnetic people skills and emotional intelligence. The good news is that EQ is not only learnable, it’s a lifelong practice at which you can become excellent. 

How to put emotional intelligence into action

Here are four specific EQ strategies to use daily to build business and preserve your well-being, both in and out of the office:

  • Listen and ask questions. Active listening can’t be interrupted by the ding or buzz of a smartphone. It will help you better understand your client’s needs and, therefore, better perform your job. But don’t just listen. Ask relevant follow-up questions. This can help you get to the heart of an issue while finding out if there are other ways to expand your (or your firm’s) work with a particular client.
  • Look up. While listening, don’t look down at a phone, your notes, or anything else. Instead, make eye contact. Read the person’s body language and facial expressions to understand how they really feel. Your eye contact shows you are actively engaged and focused on what the other person is saying. 
  • Take a breath. Our work as lawyers often includes conflict and combative situations. Expect it, but do not let yourself be triggered by it. A well-timed pause can be powerful. Use it to take a few deep, slow breaths to calm your nervous system and your mind so you can do your best thinking. Even Navy Seals use deep breathing techniques to help regulate the body’s fight-or-flight response.
  • Find your community. Participate in associations, organizations, and events not only because they are excellent opportunities for networking, personal and business growth, and simply connecting with interesting new people, but also because they give you a chance to put empathy into practice. Focus on listening, asking questions, and reading body language. Empathy is a muscle, and we need reps to build it. 

Bringing it all together

The importance of fostering and protecting your well-being goes beyond taking care of yourself. It is a savvy business move. Business growth can be a natural outgrowth of greater well-being. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other; you can pursue both simultaneously and with purpose. Prioritizing your well-being increases your chances of professional success because it empowers you to build more genuine connections, cultivate stronger client relationships, serve your existing clients better, feel more fulfilled, and exercise resilience in the face of setbacks. 

One of the most effective ways to build a sustainable and well-being-focused business is to enhance your emotional intelligence. By improving your ability to exercise self-awareness and empathize with others, you’ll improve your own practice. And you’ll play a role in humanizing and elevating our entire profession. 

Interested in lawyer well-being? To learn more about or to join the MSBA Well-Being Committee, please visit: 

To propose a wellness-related column or feature for Bench & Bar, write to editor Steve Perry (  

Need someone to talk to? 

One great option is Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL), which provides free, confidential support and services to Minnesota lawyers, judges, law students, and their immediate family members on any issue that causes stress or distress., 651-646-5590, 866-525-6466 toll-free

KENDRA BRODIN is founder and CEO of EsquireWell, a lawyer well-being and professional development company that provides speaking, coaching, consulting, and on-demand learning to help lawyers be happier, healthier, and more successful. 

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