Whether you’re deciding to pursue a career in law, or if you’re about to finish school and embark on your career, you should know that being a successful lawyer is more than just knowing the law. It’s never too early to start honing the skills that you will need to make the most out of a career as a lawyer. Here are 5 skills that you should work on developing no matter what stage of the game you’re in.
It’s important to be able to listen to what people are trying to tell you, not just the words that they are saying. It’s also important to be able to spot inconsistencies in your adversary’s case, and often those things are found when the other side slips up. Take some time to develop active listening skills and learn how to ask the right questions to get the answers you need to make your case.
And it’s not just reading. It’s poring over case documents, previous rulings that might apply to your case, and a variety of other rather mundane bits of legal jargon. Develop the ability to filter through information and pick out exactly what it is that you need to find, and you’ll do just fine. Even when working with simple law issues like tax law or estate planning, you need to be able to read and understand copious amounts of information.
3. Public Speaking
Even if you aren’t planning on being a trial lawyer, you’re going to have to learn good communication skills. Whether you’re on the phone with a client, explaining an issue to a group of people, or reading a will to a grieving family, you’re going to be in the hot-seat quite a bit when you pursue a legal career. Take a public speaking course or begin volunteering your time with a non-profit to get in the habit of simplifying complicated legal discourse for everyday people. The ability to make people understand what you do will help immensely no matter what field of law you enter.
Along with good listening and public speaking, you’ll need to focus on your writing ability as a lawyer. The importance of clear and concise writing when it comes to legal matters cannot be understated. When drawing up contracts, presenting an argument, or just communicating with clients, making sure that your writing cannot be misunderstood or misconstrued is crucial to client satisfaction and your long-term career success.
Attention to detail is a critical part of making any good legal case. If you’re nailing down the details of someone’s last wishes, little words like “or” can leave open a lot of room for misinterpretation. When you’re dealing with healthcare or criminal law, small mistakes can literally be the difference between life and death. If you’re poring over documents or evidence, you need to be able to spot the small loopholes or inconsistencies in testimony to be able to serve your client’s needs the best that you can.
6. Time Management
Working in the legal field requires a strong ability to plan your schedule, and to fit in unexpected surprises into your day. You might get called on an emergency basis to deal with a client, and still leave yourself time to go and make a court appearance. Making sure that you have ample time to fit in these unexpected problems will go a long way towards improving your ability to get things done and satisfy your client.
Developing these skills early in your career- possibly even before you begin it, can be the difference between a successful career and being relegated to the drudges of a legal library for the foreseeable future. Take some classes to help if you find yourself lacking in any of these areas or find a mentor to help you learn them.