It’s not just their suits that separate a Harvey Specter or an Alan Shore from other lawyers!
In today’s world, it’s not enough to be an expert in your area or top of your class in law school; lawyers now need a host of diverse skill sets to progress in their career. Employers no longer look at only academic scores while hiring. Modern lawyers must not only ace their legal game but also possess and sharpen their emotional and soft skills. Here are a few modern-day requisites of the trade:
- Commercial and technological awareness
One of the most employable skills for a lawyer today is commercial awareness. Firms expect their lawyers to keep abreast of current developments in local, national and global politics, policy and business. This is particularly relevant if there are any issues that might impact the law firm and its clients. Clients also expect their lawyers to not only fully understand their business but also keep an eye on their numbers and strategic opportunities. Legal help is needed at every stage of setting up a business, and lawyers with sound business sense and a knowledge of how markets and economies function gain a competitive edge.
The prevalence of online economy requires lawyers to be efficient at handling email and the internet. For example, lawyers need to be adept at smart telephony and communication tools to be able to work with remote clients and location-agnostic teams. In today’s tech-driven world, it is imperative to know how tech products and a tech company function. A foot in the startup/ app ecosystem ensures business growth. Speaking their language and fitting in with their culture is necessary to remain relevant. Atrium, a boutique law firm specializing in startups, served over 400 clients in just two years. Lawyers can also create tech products that help automate their processes by using coding tools such as chatbots.
- People skills and nurturing relationships
Soft skills are important in all professions but especially in law. A lawyer needs to build on a foundation of trust. To fulfil their roles as advisors and confidantes, their ability to communicate, to empathize is paramount. They need to inspire confidence. Representing their clients in court, settling negotiations and distilling complex information requires them to be both a good orator and a good listener. Lawyers work with a spectrum of people, right from members of the judiciary to colleagues in their own firms. At all times, they need to be good team players, personable and courteous even under stress. A successful lawyer is one who can walk into any room and gauge its atmosphere by reading the nonverbal cues and body language of those present. For example, in-house lawyers have to balance a multi-dimensional role, as they need to advance organizational strategy and align with their internal clients while they retain their independence and ensure compliance with the law, which is a lawyer’s core obligation.
Conflict resolution during arbitration and legal proceedings also requires a good deal of people skills. Lawyers must be able to relate to all parties, be relatable themselves and understand the situation from multiple viewpoints to find common ground. For example, some lawyers often make blunders such as assuming they know more than they actually do and repeatedly ignore obvious body language showing discomfort; both of these can end up offending a client, witness or jury — turning them hostile. Law firms grow by nurturing client relationships. Lawyers must take a genuine interest in their client’s welfare and connect with them on a personal level, rather than treat them as mere transactions.
- Personal brand building
In the early stages of their career, lawyers must focus on growth hacking and building their brand. Using social-media platforms like LinkedIn to show experience and professional achievements has now become professional hygiene. Before hiring, more and more recruiters look at social media presence, online recommendations, connections and followers. Crafting a good online persona and producing regular, relevant content distinguishes a lawyer as a thought leader. For example, it’s especially important that lawyers have strong profiles on law-specific sites such as Avvo or Martindale (and associated sites). Contributing to publications, and publishing white papers and presentations help build a solid and sharp reputation. Using online advertising tools and optimizing for search engines is key to generating new business. According to the ABA Tech Report, 80% of lawyers in firms of 500+ who maintain a legal blog report getting clients as a result of this activity.
While online platforms are a great way to pitch thoughts to new people, lawyers should also attend and network at professional and client events. When attending such events, its best to prepare a conversation opener beforehand. A one-liner that showcases your key selling points in areas of relevance to the other party. For example, “I’m passionate about pro-bono work having volunteered with Battersea Citizen’s Advice Bureau last year. I’d love to hear more about your pro-bono work with the LGBT community and how I could get involved.” Attending parties, charity events, sports contests, help showcase them as team players. Not only are these a great way to build enduring relationships but they also help gain new connections and outshine the competition.
- Research and creativity
Irrespective of your legal specialization lawyers need to be able to get the right information from their clients. This is harder than it looks, as laymen have no idea about which bits of information are relevant. Context and background information are key to understanding how the law will apply or how to work out a deal. Once they have the right information from the client, lawyers need to do extensive research absorbing facts, analysing judgements and distilling relevant matter to present back to their clients. Skills such as identifying relevant information from a mass of data, distilling it accurately and precisely, and communicating it to the client, are all vital for an attorney. A single misplaced word or gap in their work can have huge consequences for them, the firm and the client. For example, typing the wrong deposition date, losing a crucial file or even incomplete research. Attention to detail is key in the process of providing legal advice and drafting documents.
Success in the legal profession often calls for unorthodox measures and out-of-the-box thinking. Good lawyers need to be able to outmanoeuvre their opposition to secure positive results for their clients. A creative approach is required for them to work their way around cases and laws and come up with arguments that fit all the facts. For example, one can think of a new case as a story, with character and plot all mashed up, interwoven and confusing. Reading it as a story, one can work out who the characters are and what their roles are. Thereafter, one must look for the holes in the plot, i.e. people acting out of character, ignoring facts they should have known, making decisions that have consequences. Finally, the lawyer must work out where and how the legal issues come into the story, and thereafter write the ending. It takes a keen and analytical mind to think of every eventuality in a given scenario and prepare for all of them.
- Entrepreneurial spirit and business skills
Whether they work at a law firm or have their own, lawyers need to understand that both are businesses. This means meeting deadlines, keeping costs low, managing multiple projects and stakeholders, and handling information confidentially. An understanding of how the business operates and remains profitable helps them gain a much-needed perspective and enables them to think and act like entrepreneurs. It helps build flexibility, cultural sensitivity, and resilience. Understanding what’s happening in the world allows planning for events that might affect their practice or the firm. Keeping abreast of world events also helps customize solutions for clients. A keen understanding of the bigger political and economic picture makes a lawyer invaluable to their client. For example, lawyers are well known for their attitude towards minimizing risk, but for an entrepreneur, taking risks is second nature. Lawyers who do not appreciate this will have frustrated clients complaining of over-lawyering and constant objection-raising.
A lawyer in today’s day and age must constantly learn and evolve. They must participate in events both professional and social, know technology and the social media space, and understand personal branding. They are able to empathize and are truly invested in their client’s wellbeing and success. They’re a team player and have a keen ability to relate to everyone. They have an eye for detail and experience in analysing and distilling large and complex volumes of information. They possess an entrepreneurial fire and the knowledge to grow business. Lastly, in addition to being experts in their field, they have more than a finger on the pulse of the nation and the world.