Legal positions vary greatly in scope and responsibility, but certain core skills are required for most of them. It goes without saying that you'll need the physical stamina and the energy necessary to put in long days, but certain emotional attributes can't be overlooked either.
Nobody wants an attorney to whom they're just another case number. A capacity for empathy can go a long way. And while it can also pay to be pessimistic—you're always prepared for the worst-case scenario with a solution already prepared in the back of your mind—you don't want that to be visible to your clients.
Beyond stamina and compassion, several intellectual edges come into play as well.
Language is one of the most fundamental tools of a legal professional. You must be able to convey information in clear, concise, and logical terms. You should be able to communicate persuasively, and be able to advocate a position or a cause.
You'll also have to master legal terminology, and don't overlook that good communication means listening well, too.
From writing simple correspondence to drafting complex legal documents, writing is an integral function of nearly every position. Professionals must master the stylistic and mechanical aspects of writing, as well as the fundamentals of English grammar.
Learn how to write organized, concise, and persuasive prose. You'll need this skill to draft effective documents such as motions, briefs, memorandums, resolutions, and agreements.
Serving a client capably, honestly, and responsibly is crucial to success in the client-focused legal industry. Professionals must master rainmaking and client development skills and customer service skills.
Analytical and Logical Reasoning
Professionals must review and assimilate large volumes of complex information and be able to do so efficiently and effectively. Analytical and logical reasoning skills include reviewing complex written documents, drawing inferences, and making connections between legal authorities.
You'll be expected to develop organizational and problem-solving abilities, and to structure and evaluate arguments. An ability to use inductive and deductive reasoning to draw inferences and reach conclusions can't be overstated.
Researching legal concepts, case law, judicial opinions, statutes, regulations, and other information are important skills. Professionals must master research techniques and learn how to locate and synthesize legal authority.
You must be proficient at statutory interpretation and learn proper legal citation. Become proficient with legal research software applications and internet research.
Technology is changing the legal landscape and is an integral part of every function. Professionals should master a variety of word processing, presentation, time management, billing, and practice-related software applications to remain effective in their jobs.
This includes master communications technology such as email, voice messaging systems, video conferencing, and related technology. It involves becoming familiar with electronic discovery, computerized litigation support, and document management software.
You should also develop the tech know-how to make wise technology decisions.
Knowledge of Substantive Law and Legal Procedure
All legal professionals, even those at the bottom of the food chain, should have a basic knowledge of substantive law and legal procedure. Even secretaries and other support staff must have at least a general knowledge of local, state, and federal court systems, and relevant filing deadlines.
They should understand the fundamental principles of law in the practice area in which they work.
Legal professionals are under constant pressure to bill time and manage large workloads in a profession that's based on the business model of the billable hour. Productivity equals financial gain.
They must develop superior multi-tasking skills, a strong work ethic, and the ability to juggle competing priorities. They must be able to meet tight deadlines, and this requires calendar and time management skills.
Legal professionals must develop topnotch organizational skills to manage large volumes of data and documents, even and especially in the age of technology.
This includes the ability to sort, order, and manage large volumes of exhibits, documents, files, evidence, data, and other information in paper form, and the ability to identify objectives, catalog data, and create an effective organization structure from massive amounts of unrelated information. But you should also be able to use technology applications that assist in managing case-related data.
Legal professionals don't work in a vacuum. Even solo practitioners must rely on support staff and team up with co-counsel, experts, and vendors to deliver services. Teamwork can be integral to individual and organizational success.
Teamwork skills include collaborating with others to reach common goals, as well as coordinating and sharing information and knowledge. You should be able to cultivate relationships with colleagues and clients. Attend and participate in team events, meetings, and conferences.
Your Ticket to Success
Develop all these skills, and you’ll be on your way to success in the legal profession. It might seem like a lot to master, but you'll find that proficiency in one area tends to lead to expertise in another.