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The skills needed to be a successful lawyer

Read more about the key skills needed to be a successful lawyer
Image of a laywer showing paperwork to a client
© Prospects.ac.uk

Aside from commercial awareness, there are several other key skills you will need to be a successful lawyer.

Attention to detail

Accuracy is a vital law skill and is pivotal to the success of your legal career. A word out of place can change the meaning of a clause or contract, while misspelt or ungrammatical emails, letters or documents give clients a bad impression, costing your firm their business.

When applying for jobs or training contracts remember that employers look for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. To improve your attention to detail, volunteer your proofing services to student publications and get used to going through your own work thoroughly.

Communication

Strong oral and written communication skills are crucial to a legal career. Excellent listening ability is also important when working with clients, as you need to be able to build relationships and engender confidence.

You need to be a confident speaker when arguing a case in court, negotiating settlements and explaining complex information to clients. You’ll have to use persuasive, clear and succinct language. Public speaking is also required in the role of a barrister. To hone this skill while at university, volunteer as the spokesperson in group activities or get involved in debate teams.

Written ability is equally important when drafting letters and legal documents. You’ll need to know technical and legal language and be able to convey it clearly and concisely. To improve your written communication skills, get involved with your university’s law society. You could take meeting minutes, draft emails, write newsletters or manage social media accounts.

Teamwork

Winning cases is a team effort. Solicitors need to collaborate with colleagues and partners, as well as liaise with clients. Barristers need to foster a close working relationship with their clerks and will often work high-profile cases alongside other barristers. The ability to work as part of a team is an essential legal skill and you’ll need to be able to deal with people from all levels of the legal hierarchy, from trainees and pupils, to members of the judiciary.

It’s also crucial that clients trust their legal representatives, so you’ll need to be personable, persuasive and polite.

The easiest way to hone your people skills is to join a team. This could be a sports team, drama club or a choir – anything that enables you to work with others. Part-time work in a customer service role is another way to improve this skill, as is volunteering.

Information analysis and research

Reading large amounts of information, absorbing facts and figures, analysing material and distilling it into something manageable is a feature of any law career.

Being able to identify what is relevant out of a mass of information and explain it clearly and concisely to your client is key. Hone this skill by taking large documents or long news articles and making five-point bulleted lists of the most important themes.

Research also plays a huge role in a lawyer’s day-to-day job. You’ll need research skills when doing the background work on a case, drafting legal documents and advising clients on complicated issues. Use your time at university to familiarise yourself with internet and library resources and build up a network of contacts. As a newly qualified solicitor or barrister industry connections can prove to be a useful source of advice.

Organisation

Researching points of law, drafting legal documents and contracts, managing case files, meeting clients, attending court and networking with legal professionals – it’s fair to say that the life of a solicitor or barrister is one big juggling act. The ability to prioritise and remain focused among competing priorities is essential and that’s why organisational skills are so important to your legal career.

You’ll have plenty of opportunity to hone this skill throughout your training and work experience. To demonstrate it to employers, mention how you held down a part-time job or was a membership of a society while studying.

Creative problem solving

You may think that the legal profession provides little outlet for an individual’s creative talent, but this isn’t the case. No matter which legal career you choose you’ll frequently have to think outside the box to get the job done.

As experienced solicitors and barristers will tell you, the best course of action isn’t always the easiest or the most obvious. To outmanoeuvre opposing parties and secure a positive result for your client you’ll need to employ your creative thinking and problem-solving skills on a daily basis.

A good way to develop these abilities is to take part in student competitions, such as mooting, become a student representative or gain a position on your students’ union.

Other useful skills

  • Resilience and self-confidence – to stand out from the crowd you’ll need resilience and a confidence in your own abilities.
  • Initiative – while being able to work successfully as part of a team is essential, there’ll be instances where you’ll have to show initiative and independence. You’ll sometimes have to make quick decisions, without conferring with colleagues making using your own initiative an important legal competency.
  • The ability to work under pressure – solicitors and barristers manage heavy workloads to tight deadlines and the outcome of this work has the potential to have a lasting impact on the lives of their clients.
© Prospects.ac.uk
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