Becoming a lawyer is competitive and everyone has their two cents on what it takes to be a great lawyer. The Pennsylvania Bar Institute conducted an extensive study to identify and explore the characteristics of accomplished lawyers. They found that, universally, soft skills are identified as the key factor in a lawyer’s aptitude for success in practice and business.
These 7 qualities encompass the essence of the soft skills found in great attorneys:
This trait seems like an obvious one; however, it includes a wide range of skills many people forget are essential to leadership, including project management, accountability, integrity, and effective communication/people skills.
Lawyers balance multiple cases with varying responsibilities at one time. Having an established project management system and someone to be accountable is vital to each case’s success. Mistakes can and do happen and it is imperative that when something goes awry, the attorney has the integrity and communication skills to successfully navigate the situation.
Lawyers are known for being logical and having impeccable deductive reasoning skills. While those are essential skills, a lawyer must be able to frame those skills with creative thinking and strategic problem-solving. Case law is most-often established when an attorney is able to think about an issue in a new way and take a different approach than previous attorneys.
Creativity is like a muscle, it requires constant and consistent training. Find a way to stimulate your creativity and make it a daily routine.
Being a lawyer requires having thick skin and the ability to quickly bounce back from setbacks or failures. Being resilient as a lawyer includes persevering through difficult tasks and understanding techniques of persuasion to accomplish a difficult goal.
There isn’t a class in law school that teaches resilience, but law students and lawyers can train themselves to think differently. Evaluate personal strengths and weaknesses and find ways to shift your perspective on difficult situations. Over time, resilience will develop as a natural by-product of an increased perspective.
Depending on your area of practice, you may have more or less risk associated with the outcomes of your cases. Whether it’s prosecuting a small civil suit or defending an inmate sentenced to death row, there is a level of risk that must be managed with clients and within your firm.
Key parts of risk management include analytical and research skills, judgment, and financial literacy. Understanding how and why different aspects of business, the law, and human interaction function will help an attorney develop the emotional intelligence to make accurate risk assessments and convey them to everyone involved.
Self-Direction & Self-Motivation
The ability to stay motivated in the appropriate direction is a coveted skill for all jobs and especially for attorneys. Lawyers are given a fair amount of autonomy in their cases and need to know not just how to stay motivated but also where their time will be best spent.
Visual reminders, accountability to friends or coworkers, and a daily routine will help an attorney increase their ability to self-motivate and self-direct.
Ability to Work in Groups
Humility and respect are vital to the success of any group. The application of the law is becoming more complex as society and technology evolve. Rarely, if ever, is a case won by a single attorney. Partners, associates, paralegals, and everyone in between contributes to the success of a firm and its cases.
Spend time at lunch or other free time in law school or in the firm to meet people and hear their stories. Developing perspective for other people’s circumstances will help increase an individual’s ability to work in groups.
Commitment to Lifelong Learning
An attorney must stay current on the ever-changing applications of the law if they are going to continue to be relevant and provide value to their partners and clients. As the world evolves and changes, so do the ways in which people interact with each other. These ideological shifts open new avenues for case law as the law is creatively and strategically applied to new and important issues.
Soft skills don’t come naturally to everyone, but there are ways to develop and improve them. A mentor or close friend who is willing to be honest and constructive with their feedback is invaluable in pursuing a career as an attorney.