The legal profession has never been an easy career track to follow, given the high costs and intensive studying that going to law school entails. On today’s job market becoming a lawyer has become even more of a daunting task, as the competition is now more acerbic than ever, while the spectrum of student debt looms menacingly over the heads of most students. But if you want to find out how to be a great lawyer, even in spite of these difficult conditions, we’ve got all the tips on what skills you need to hone.
Your soft skills are your main assets for how to be a good lawyer
According to a recent study, completed by researchers from the Dayton School of Law, most employers in the legal profession don’t actually place major focus on the expected ‘hard skills’. Sure, it pays to know your practical essentials and it’s always a good idea to have great writing, analysis, and research skills. However, most legal companies value professionals that display potential in terms of their soft skills. The study defined these skills as the “personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social graces that make someone a good employee”. In other words, if you ask the law companies, the best lawyer out there has a great deal of socio-emotional, or intra- and interpersonal skills. The study, authored by Susan Wawrose from the Dayton School of Law, was also published in the Ohio Northern University Law Review.
Ethics and independence are essential
The same study stressed how important it is for employers in the field of law to have new staff, fresh out of law school, able to work independently. In the views of the 19 company managers interviewed for the purposes of the report, many young lawyers expect the older ones to “sit down and kind of spoon feed them”. Employers expressed their preference for new hires who are able to make do without too much hand-holding and mollycoddling. When asked how to be a good lawyer, many of them ranked independence and a positive attitude as some of the top assets. They also expressed some degree of exasperation with young graduates who come in with their brand new law school diploma and feel entitled to rise up through the ranks and become partners. While becoming a partner to a legal company is, in a certain sense, a Holy Grail of sorts for the legal professional, the report advises young graduates against a sense of entitlement in this respect. After all, in today’s mobility-oriented professional world, it’s probably not even advised to spend as much time at your first job as to become partner.
Know your research and writing!
Young attorneys are expected to be able to carry the weight of research for those with more years of experience under their belts, says the same survey. This is why many of those questioned for the purposes of this focus group said law schools ought to do a better job at teaching students how to do research properly. In the words of one focus group participant, young lawyers are expected “to adequately and efficiently find everything that’s up to the minute”. In other words, if you want to learn how to be a good lawyer, you have to know how to look for the relevant information in books, on websites, in statutes, encyclopedias, treatises, and the entire range of paper-based sources that law firms still use nowadays. The study also noted that many young lawyers are adept at producing lengthy research memos, yet falter when it comes to writing shorter documents. Papers that will eventually reach a client needn’t always include all the details of a case and/or situation, unless said client specifically asks for them – and this is where soft skills come back into play. Producing good documents for one’s client is as much a matter of interpersonal prowess, as it is one of proper research and writing skills.