Being a lawyer involves more than simply understanding and interpreting the law. There is a robust set of soft skills that lawyers must develop in order to excel in their careers. These “lawyer soft skills” are critical competencies that foster more effective and successful practice. They range from communication and negotiation skills to emotional intelligence, resilience, and adaptability. So let’s delve into the significance of these soft skills and explore how they can impact a lawyer’s success.
The Importance of Soft Skills in Law
Before we proceed, it’s important to underscore that the significance of soft skills for lawyers isn’t just a casual observation. There have been several substantial studies and surveys that demonstrate this. For instance, a 2018 study by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) found that many foundational competencies required for new lawyers are not legal skills, but rather, personal and professional skills—what we refer to as ‘soft skills’1.
Drawing on our experience, we know that it’s these soft skills that allow lawyers to connect with their clients, build relationships with other attorneys, navigate difficult situations, and ultimately, become more successful. They’re the missing puzzle pieces that can truly complete a lawyer’s skill set.
Critical Lawyer Soft Skills
The ability to communicate effectively is arguably one of the most important skills a lawyer can possess. A study by the American Bar Association (ABA) found that communication skills were rated as highly important by almost all lawyers2.
Lawyers must have the ability to clearly explain complex legal regulations and scenarios to their clients, who may not have a background in law. Moreover, they must also communicate with opposing counsel, judges, and others involved in a case. This involves not only oral communication but also written communication. A well-structured argument in a brief or a memorandum can often be the difference between winning and losing a case.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) has gained recognition as a vital soft skill in many professions, including law. EI encompasses abilities such as self-awareness, emotional regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
According to a 2019 review of studies by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, high emotional intelligence has been linked with better job performance, leadership ability, and interpersonal relations3. For lawyers, emotional intelligence can help build stronger client relationships, facilitate negotiations, and even improve courtroom demeanor.
A cornerstone of the legal profession, negotiation is a skill that all lawyers must master. It’s not only important in mediation and settlement discussions but also in the everyday interactions lawyers have with their clients, other lawyers, and court personnel.
Research from the Harvard Negotiation Project, a think-tank devoted to the study of negotiation and conflict resolution, underscores the importance of understanding interests and positions, maintaining open communication, and seeking mutually beneficial outcomes4.
Resilience and Stress Management
The legal profession can be incredibly demanding and stressful. Resilience and stress management are thus essential lawyers’ soft skills. A survey by the ABA revealed that many lawyers experience significant stress, anxiety, and even depression5.
Resilience, the ability to bounce back from setbacks and maintain a positive outlook, is a vital tool in a lawyer’s toolkit. It allows them to navigate the ups and downs of the profession and maintain their commitment to their work. Stress management techniques, such as mindfulness and self-care, can also play a crucial role in maintaining mental health and well-being.
In a profession where laws and circumstances can change rapidly, adaptability is a key soft skill for lawyers. They must be ready to adjust their strategies, approaches, or interpretations based on new information or changing situations. A lawyer’s ability to be flexible and adaptable can often be the deciding factor in how successful they are in managing their cases.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Legal Education highlighted the importance of adaptability in the legal profession, emphasizing that it fosters innovation, enhances problem-solving capabilities, and improves service to clients6.
Developing Lawyer Soft Skills
Recognizing the importance of soft skills is one thing. Developing them is another. Fortunately, there are several strategies lawyers can use to build and strengthen these skills.
Seek Out Opportunities to Practice
Learning by doing is often the best way to develop a new skill. Seek out opportunities to practice your communication, negotiation, and other soft skills. This might involve taking on more challenging cases, volunteering for a community organization, or seeking a mentorship or coaching opportunity.
Engage in Continuous Learning
Don’t rest on your laurels. The best lawyers are always looking to improve, and that includes their soft skills. Consider attending seminars, workshops, or continuing legal education (CLE) courses that focus on these areas.
Self-Reflection and Feedback
Take the time to reflect on your performance and seek feedback from colleagues, mentors, and clients. This can help you identify areas for improvement and chart a course for development.
Conclusion on Lawyer Soft Skills
Due to our practical knowledge, we believe that the law isn’t just about understanding legal codes and precedents. It’s also about mastering a range of lawyer soft skills that help you relate to clients, handle stress, adapt to new situations, and navigate the complexities of the legal profession.
By cultivating these skills, lawyers can not only increase their effectiveness but also find more satisfaction in their work. While the journey to becoming a skilled lawyer may be challenging, the rewards — both personally and professionally — can be immense. Remember, the path to success in law is not paved with legal knowledge alone, but also with the power of soft skills.
- Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, Foundations for Practice: The Whole Lawyer and the Character Quotient (2016)
- American Bar Association, ABA Young Lawyers Division Survey: Career Satisfaction (2015)
- Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence and Job Performance: The Role of Emotion Regulation and Emotional Labor Requirements (2019)
- Harvard Negotiation Project, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (2011)
- American Bar Association, The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys (2016)
- Journal of Legal Education, Teaching Law Students to Be Self-Regulated Learners (2012)