What separates a random, run-of-the mill lawyer from being a highly sought-after lawyer? Contrary to popular belief, it is not whether you were at the top of your law school class or an expert in your practice area. Instead, it is your “soft skills” that will make you an indispensable and valuable lawyer, whether you work for a firm or are hanging your own shingle as a solo.
As a lawyer, your soft skills are a combination of your attitudes, character traits, emotional intelligence, communication, interpersonal and social skills. In other words, soft skills are WHO YOU ARE, whereas hard skills are what you know. They are those intangible qualities that, while it can be taught to some degree, are inherent in some more than others.
Here are a few soft-skills that will set you apart as a lawyer.
Confidence is when you know you can do your job and do it well. You are unafraid to speak up when you have questions or when you have an idea to pitch. When you do speak, you speak with authority and not like you’re asking for permission or unsure of yourself.
Typically, you must master confidence before you can effectively self-promote since they are close cousins. It is not enough that your partner or your clients know that you do great work. You need to proactively and subtly promote your skills and results you’ve achieved to the people of power or influence in your network. By tooting your own horn, you are building your reputation as a high achiever and a person that can get things done. This is important because hard work in and of itself is not enough to achieve success. The more people know of what you can do, the more opportunities will come your way.
Since the legal profession is a people business, your ability to effectively deal with people, whether it’s your clients or colleagues, will determine the trajectory of your career. It’s important that you recognize that you are not an island and no one gets or maintains success by themselves. Those that make it, have mastered the art of building and maintaining relationships. You know how to foster strategic partnerships and continuously provide value to your network. You are able to be interesting and interested in conversations that motivates people to want to be in your network. The bigger and stronger the network you have, the more easily you can get things done.
Having emotional intelligence means that you are able to effectively manage your emotions, especially negative ones, in the workplace. This doesn’t mean that you will never feel emotions such as anger, frustration or embarrassment, but you are able to keep them in check so you can think clearly, calmly and objectively and act accordingly.
Resilience and Persistence
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, you’re able to quickly bounce back when you experience a setback or disappointment. Despite challenges, failures and oppositions, you’re able to maintain the same energy, enthusiasm and dedication to achieving your intended goal.
Navigate Office Politics
Office politics are inevitable. Being able to understand and effectively deal with the nuances of office and people dynamics can be the difference between a rewarding career and the unemployment line. If you have a boss or partner that you report to, your ability to manage your relationship with them, their expectations of your work, and their perceptions of your performance will be key to being highly touted and given opportunities.
You are constantly striving to be a better person than you were yesterday. You see challenges as an opportunity to learn, grow and stretch yourself. Those that remain committed to growth, instead of staying stagnant, always win.
Strong Work Ethic
Having a strong work ethic is more than just doing the work put in front of you. Your partners, colleagues and clients know they can count on you to take initiative and go above and beyond what is asked of you to ensure a fantastic product is put forth.
Effectively Handle Difficult People and Situations
Being able to still achieve the work result needed while working with someone whom you find difficult is the height of professionalism. If you’re thrown into a situation that is unexpected or difficult, your ability to stay calm, think on your feet and articulate thoughts in an organized manner even when you are not prepared for the discussion or situation you are in is what separates the good from the great.
Did these descriptions sound like you? For the skills that you weren’t so strong in, go back and try to master them. The beauty of having “soft skills” are that the skills are transferrable. Even if you decide you never want to practice law again, you can utilize these skills in any career and they will take you far.