Lawyer enrollment rates have dwindled in the past few years, but it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The reputation of the industry has been blighted by controversies and misrepresentations, the fees continue to soar and the skill sets required have grown.
But all is not lost. Becoming a lawyer is still an exciting prospect and gaining the important skills can be achieved with the right advice. Let’s take a look at how you can develop essential attorney skills.
Commercial awareness refers to your understanding of your client’s market and business landscape. Foresight delineates your ability to see opportunities and potential legal or operational threats posed by mergers and acquisitions, strategic alliances, regulatory or supply chain alterations. Being equipped with timely information is an essential skill for serving corporate clients.
To develop commercial skills, start reading the local papers and keeping abreast of industry-related news. This gives you a foundation to build on. Add to it by analyzing the market and predicting what enterprises would benefit from partnerships and M&As. Finally, network. Extend your network as far as you can. If something happens, having other people out there to let you know first is invaluable.
Time management is not a skill that garners college credits in law school despite its importance. Lawyers are among the most overworked professionals in any industry. If you want to have some quality of life and see your family occasionally, you need to be an expert time manager.
Get into the habit of planning out every day and every week. Put priority and difficult tasks first in the schedule and achieve your high-value targets. Set reminders for important filing and submission dates and be organized.
Once you have the routine down, manage your working style. What tasks are you required to do, and can you do them quicker? A typical task list for emerging lawyers is contract review. It might take you hours but using contract analytics software could give you that time back for income-generating work. Find more efficient ways of working with legal tech.
You have likely felt the challenge of compromised deadlines before but in the working world, they are less forgiving. Every day you will be doing research, case summaries, and due diligence reports that require exceptional analytical and learning skills.
Assess your learning style. What slows you down? How can you get quicker? What do other people do better than you? Where possible, supplement your efforts with technology. Tools like ROSS Intelligence provide case summary reports which mean far less digging and summarizing for you. Nolo provides free resources and DIY templates to speed up your processes.
Efficient learning is a skill that you can’t do without finding ways to reduce lethargy.
Communication is the bedrock of being a good lawyer. You must be able to provide an empathetic ear to clients, be a hard-nosed litigator facing opposing counsel, a persuasive negotiator in front of a jury, and a convincing authority in front of a judge. In addition, you also need exemplary written communication skills. Finding each of these competencies in one person is a rarity so it needs to be practiced.
If you haven’t left law school yet, join the debate team. If you have, join a Toastmasters debating club or public speaking forum. Attend networking events with people you disagree with. Take a marketing and elevator pitch CLE. Find ways to advance your communication skills because the entire profession is built around it.
Attention to detail is one of those skills people think you are either born with or will never possess. Frankly, it doesn’t matter which you believe because it is critical for a lawyer, and finding a way to hone it is key. If you don’t agree, just ask Oakhurst Dairy who was forced to pay $5million in overtime because of a comma. As a lawyer, it is your job to see minute details.
To improve your attention to detail, get organized. Disorganized people get distracted easily and miss things. Planning your days helps. Take breaks to refresh the mind. In your spare time, try doing word search and Sudoku puzzles to keep the mind sharp. Leverage technology where you can because it is more accurate.
As mentioned above, the worklife balance for attorneys is less than desirable and the responsibilities are stressful. If you don’t manage stress from the outset, it will build and eventually leak into your ability to perform.
Factor your health and wellness into your weekly plans. You don’t have to get in Zen mode every day but find ways of releasing your tension. Exercising, eating and sleeping are keystone habits that impact every other part of your life. Create a healthy lifestyle by optimizing these three habits in your daily routine.
A career in law relies on an increasingly wide variety of skills and mastering them is no easy feat. It demands attorneys to stay present and current in their information and technology fluency and the ability to communicate clearly and confidently. By working on the nuanced soft skills beyond the technical requirements, you are sure to become a well-rounded and well-respected attorney.