What Skills Are Required to Be a Lawyer?

Critical Thinking Skills

Prestige, respect and access to elite society are privileges often associated with the legal profession. Lawyers also enjoy some of the highest wages in the labor market. Just imagine – an associate with no experience may earn from $205,000 in their first year. Not bad, right?

However, to be truly successful a good lawyer must possess a unique combination of skills to get to the top of the legal career ladder.

We all looked on with undisguised delight at Tom Cruise in The Firm, Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief, and Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder. Human rights defenders, lawyers, attorneys: all eternal champions of the truth who oppose injustice. Sounds as good as describing the X-Men, doesn't it?

Of course, such flattering epithets towards lawyers may seem unfair to other professions. After all, everyone is unique in their own way, and high levels of professionalism requires carefully honed skills and detailed knowledge in any business. 

But in the case of lawyers, a unique combination of skills and personal qualities must be present in the right proportions. It is a balanced fusion of the broadest erudition in legislation and law, inexhaustible curiosity about legal innovations, and natural insight that makes an ordinary lawyer a great specialist. 

A sound educational base, law courses, and constant professional self-development can help to be a competent and savvy specialist, but a good soft skill set is essential for a lawyer.

Do you still consider yourself such a universal soldier? Elizabeth Moeller, an assistant dean of career services at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, where she counsels students and alumni, insists on continuous all-round self-development of candidates for law firm vacancies. “Because the law is a service industry that is client-centric, many employers are evaluating candidates for the whole package. They want to see that you have numerous skills that will be essential for your success as a lawyer.”

According to Moeller, “They want to hire someone they can introduce to others within the organization, trust with their clients, co-counsel, opposing counsel, and judges. They want lawyers who are enthusiastic about their work, who are creative go-getters, and who can work independently as well as on teams. Employers look for these and other key competencies when they are looking for law students and lawyers to hire.”

So, if you are already a certified lawyer or are just starting your career in this field, we suggest that you compare the personal qualities in your resume with the list below of the soft skills you will need to become a lawyer.

Excellent Communication Skills

Communication is the backbone of any legal profession. In principle, your professional suitability depends on your ability to establish communication in any available form with any person.

Let's be honest - the peculiarity of this profession often boils down to the fact that you have to communicate with some unpleasant people. Some of your clients may turn out to be notorious villains!

Verbal and written communication is often associated with the practical application of people skills. To see real people and their histories behind thick volumes of documents is not just an outstanding achievement but a key competency for lawyers.

Communication is not only speaking but also listening! “It’s been shown in employer-employee disputes that if both sides repeated what the other side had just said before speaking themselves, conflicts were resolved 50 percent faster,” according to statistics given by Greg Orme in his “The Human Edge,” awarded as the Business Book of the Year 2020.

Teamwork and Delegation

In addition to professional communication with clients, lawyers also interact with other members of the court. Namely, witnesses, administration staff, and many other specialists regularly. It’s a sociable, interactive career which means that you’ll meet plenty of people.

Perhaps for some, the ego is synonymous with a successful career. But a successful lawyer, among other things, always has a specific mission. And to achieve goals, effective teamwork is often essential. It is often necessary to push your ambitions and ego into the background.

Working in law means knowing how to interact within a team. Even the most successful lawyers rely on the help of colleagues and assistants. Lawyers deal with huge amounts of information, so they often pool together their resources and focus on separate areas of a case. Even the smallest cases aren’t won by one person alone: they are a team effort!

Good Time Management

Time management is undoubtedly an essential skill for all modern professions. However, for lawyers, this secret ability is similar to martial arts and Shaolin philosophy. Lewis Carroll’s Alice had her own recipe for effective time management. Remember the two clocks on different shoes, one of which was in a hurry, while the other lagged behind? But for a professional lawyer, this is perhaps not enough!

Legal professionals are more likely to be self-employed than other specialists. This presupposes strict adherence to a carefully worked-out business schedule, otherwise there is a risk of disrupting deadlines, missing the terms for processing documents, and, in the end, letting down a considerable number of people.

Declan Murphy, contributing author for Attorney at Law Magazine, sees procrastination as the main enemy of a successful lawyer: “Lawyers work under a great deal of time pressure. It’s a literal ticking clock situation. They will have a court date and will need to collect sufficient evidence within that time.

“They can’t be people who work at the last minute or ask for an extension. So, you will need to be able to work under pressure and not become easily distracted. A lawyer who procrastinates doesn’t get the job done,” says Murphy on the topic.

Self-Organization and Multitasking

The key reason to constantly improve your self-organizing skills is multitasking, which is an inevitable part of being a lawyer today. Just as your laptop has more than a dozen tabs open simultaneously, a lawyer keeps information about dozen cases in their head with details, names, dates, and other data. The main thing is not to jumble them up!

“Clients of legal and ancillary services primarily want one single option. They want professionals to organize all the processes for them. Without a doubt, legal professionals should have this skill in their blood,” believes Andriy Bogdanov, CEO of Online Divorce, one of the leading web services for the preparation of divorce documents.

You can argue that the human factor has long and categorically been lost to computer technology in this respect, and this remark would be fair. However, according to forecasts, the legal profession will be in demand even in the far future, precisely because of lawyers’ unique human abilities and emotional intelligence.

Attention to Detail

A lawyer must have a keen eye for accuracy as any errors in documentation could cause an entire case to be thrown out. All documentation from emails to memos must be flawless. One misplaced word on a contract could have a severe negative impact.

While conducting research, a lawyer must be able to review large amounts of information and retain the smallest details. It's those small, easily missed items that can leave a case wide open. Being able to focus intensely is a key skill for a lawyer.

Confident Research Skills

While lawyers spend plenty of time in the courtroom, they also spend a lot of time elsewhere, crafting their case and collecting evidence. This means knowing how to conduct research. A lawyer will interview witnesses and gather information: it’s all about knowing how to use resources and connect the dots.

A lawyer’s abilities include reading and processing large amounts of information and parsing that information down to something understandable by sifting out the important bits. It is critical to perform for clients by quickly researching all potentially relevant information and conducting analysis to prepare legal strategies.

The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Learn how to set yourself effective personal goals and find the motivation you need to achieve them. This is the essence of personal development, a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential, at work, in study and in your personal life.

The second edition of or bestselling eBook is ideal for anyone who wants to improve their skills and learning potential, and it is full of easy-to-follow, practical information.

Final Words

As research can sometimes lead to multiple conclusions, it is essential to draw upon analytical skills to choose the most suitable variant and the best solution. So, after reading this article, it's time to test your analytical skills and extract the most useful information for yourself! Think, analyze, practice, develop and succeed in your career!

About the Author

Natalie Maximets is a certified life transformation coach and a freelance writer with expertise in mindfulness and sustainability. She is a published author focusing on the most progressive solutions in the field of psychology.