When it comes down to qualifications, besides the addition of some pocket money, what you need to get into law school is pretty straight forward. But becoming a lawyer does require a certain set of skills. Here Emma Jones, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, delves into the kinds of soft skills inherently required to success as a lawyer.
Soft skills are becoming increasingly vital in today’s quickly evolving legal services market. This article explains some of the key skills you will need to succeed.
What are soft skills?
This term is used to refer to a variety of skills which fall outside the traditional intellectual skills taught on a law degree. For example, dealing with people in a positive and friendly manner, working well as part of a team and demonstrating empathy with others. Many of these skills are encompassed in the phrase “social and emotional intelligence”. In fact, the term “soft skills” is not particularly accurate as it implies these skills are a form of optional extra, whereas in fact they are crucial to life in practice.
Which soft skills do lawyers use?
There are many soft skills which are necessary in order to succeed in practice. Here are a few of them:-
- Communicating with others
As a lawyer you will be in contact with a wide variety of people, including colleagues, clients and potential future clients! You not only need to convey complex legal ideas clearly and simply, but you also have to be aware of the ways that your body language, dress and demeanour can all influence how people respond to what you are telling them.
In networking situations, being able to establish a rapport and project a positive and friendly persona are key. It isn’t about being “false”, it’s about showing that lawyers have a personality too! In other situations, for example, when dealing with legal professionals acting for other parties, you will need to ensure that you represent your client’s interests as well as possible by demonstrating your professionalism and commitment in every communication.
One way to develop these skills is to watch other, more experienced lawyers (or other professionals) at work. You can learn a lot from seeing how they communicate in different situations. It is important to take advantage of any opportunities to observe such professionals, for example, at Law School, Law Society or Inns of Court events.
- Building relationships
When dealing with clients and colleagues, you need to ensure you build constructive and appropriate relationships. With clients, this can include demonstrating empathy for their situation and acknowledging the emotional investment they have in a case. At the same time, it involves setting relevant boundaries so your professional ethics are not compromised. Working with colleagues often demands strong communication skills, and a willingness to negotiate and look at an issue from alternative perspectives.
Look for opportunities to develop your team-working skills by becoming involved on a committee for your university Law Society or another local organisation or charity. Undertaking pro bono activities will also give you the chance to work with clients and others and experience relationship building first hand.
- Self-management and self-awareness
An important part of being a lawyer is taking responsibility for your own behaviour and wellbeing and understanding how you responding to different situations. Getting to know yourself well, developing coping mechanisms for difficult situations and learning from your mistakes are all elements of this.
Forming good habits at an early stage are key to this. You need to develop a reflective approach, taking time to think over events and your part in them (for example, you could keep a reflective journal). Doing this will help you to become more aware of your responses and how to manage them appropriately. Another aspect is self-care, lawyering is demanding and stressful at times and it is important that you take time to look after yourself and ensure you are in good shape both physically and mentally. If you are struggling, speak to someone and ask for help.
Developing soft skills is a part of legal practice that Law Schools often neglect. However, to become a successful lawyer in today’s climate, you need to ensure you can use and demonstrate these to enhance both your professional profile and your life in practice.