Once you complete your legal education and pass the bar exam, you find out that there is a lot more to being an attorney than you thought.
Here are five important skill sets they might not have taught you in law school – but they should have:
No matter what your role is, it’s important to understand the business of law, starting with billing and accounting. Whether you work by the billable hour or not, you still need to know how much it is costing you or your firm to work on a case, in terms of your time, your staff’s time, case expenses, office expenses, etc. Understanding the basics of billing and business accounting helps ensure you are billing the client accordingly. It also helps you understand the cost-benefit analysis of every case, allowing you to choose cases that will most benefit your firm, and pass on cases that may wind up costing your firm.
Other business skills that all attorneys need are networking and marketing: both for yourself and your firm. (If you run a firm, that makes these skills twice as important!) These skills are intertwined: it’s important to know how to sell your own legal skills and those of your firm, but you need a network to sell to. And building a network is pointless unless you have some value to add to that network. Even if you’re not particularly ambitious, and are content to have a small practice, you still need to maintain your reputation, keep your business running, and build allies you can turn to for case support when needed.
Of course, you can hire people to take on the day-to-day operational tasks; but if you don’t have a handle on the business basics, you may not be as profitable or successful as you could be.
Knowing the law and arguing persuasively only gets you so far in law these days. Unless you play well with others, you will find yourself at a disadvantage. Interpersonal skills a lawyer needs include:
- Emotional intelligence to understand how your words and actions impact others.
- Collaborative and communication skills to build a network of people who are willing to work with you.
- Empathy to understand the needs of your clients, your colleagues, and even your adversaries.
- Psychological resilience to be able to maintain a reasoned perspective and the self-confidence to negotiate from a strong position. This requires self-awareness and the ability to adapt.
Increasingly, businesses are finding that these “soft skills” are anything but: strong people skills improve the bottom line.
Technology can be a lawyer’s best friend. It can make your job much easier, if you take the time to discover the right way to use it.
Lawyers should know how to use the suite of office technology: word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and email. Today’s attorneys should also be adept at video conferencing.
It is helpful to become proficient with electronic discovery, document management software, and litigation support software.
Most importantly, lawyers should know how to perform internet research related to their cases.
Project management, time management, attention to detail, self-discipline, logical reasoning, and data analysis are all organization skills that can help you become a better lawyer. How you sort and order your exhibits, documents and files can make or break a case. The ability to capture detail and analyze data can help to surface facts and present them more compellingly.
You will find that the use of technology can greatly help you master organization, and vice versa: organized thinking can help you master the most efficient use of technology.
The difference between good lawyers and great lawyers is whether they have mastered the art of written and oral communication.
The ability to take a complex and somewhat boring case and craft a compelling legal document is indeed an art. Well-organized, persuasive prose can win cases and make reputations.
It is just as important to be well-spoken, and be able to contemporaneously make a compelling point. It seems like it should go without saying that public speaking skills are a requirement for lawyers, but not all lawyers are adept at it.
It is also important to know how to listen. Hearing what clients and adversaries are really saying requires knowing when to shut up.
Another creative skill is problem solving. When the usual solutions don’t work, issues often require a more innovative approach.
LawWorks Can Help
LawWorks is more than workspace for lawyers. LawWorks is a community of legal professionals who support, collaborate with, and learn from each other. Membership in LawWorks makes you a part of a group that can help you gain new skills and knowledge. You can also take advantage of free MCLE-accredited classes.
Whether you’re looking to grow yourself or grow your practice, LawWorks wants to support you. Contact us to find out how.