What are the key soft skills required for a successful legal career?

soft skills

By Faith Kelly, Principal Consultant, Sellick Partnership Limited - Legal Division

 

Every legal practitioner learns, grows and develops their skills over the course of their legal career. Whether you are a freshly qualified trainee looking for your first professional role or an experienced solicitor of many years taking the next step in your career, the skills and proficiencies you have cultivated will be the key to your future success.

Many of the key abilities that legal sector employers are looking for can be easily quantified in terms of your credentials and qualifications. These measurable hard skills can be easily laid out in your CV in the form of industry accreditations or professional experiences - but there are also a number of soft skills that are equally essential to progress in the legal sector, and that you must be able to demonstrate in order to get ahead.

Here, we highlight some of the most important soft skills that will form the basis of a successful legal career, as well as explain how these skills can be deployed for the good of your employers, your clients, and your professional development.

Attention to detail

Attentiveness to detail is one of the most important soft skills for any professional, but there are few industries in which this is more important than the legal sector. Matters of law require the very highest standard of professionalism, accuracy and rigour, as the consequences of mistakes in legal work can be extremely serious and damaging.

Even minor errors in legal documentation can invalidate a lucrative contract, or jeopardise the rights or wellbeing of an individual client; similarly, sending an email to the wrong address or accidentally sharing a confidential document with the wrong lawyer can result in the collapse of a case or a serious breach of GDPR rules. Even a small grammatical error can undermine trust in your credibility, which can reflect badly on your whole firm.

Of course, occasional human errors are an inevitability, and many mistakes can be rectified. However, the potential costs of having to do so make it imperative for legal professionals to have a strong eye for detail, enabling them to comb through each clause of a lengthy legal contract to ensure its accuracy and to catch any potential errors before they can create a problem.

Communication skills

Solicitors need to be clear, persuasive, accurate and precise in all of their communications. This can be a difficult balance to strike, which is why strong communicators are in such high demand within the sector.

Legal professionals need to not only be capable of writing and understanding highly technical terminology and documentation, but they must also be able to interpret and communicate the meaning of this language to their clients in plain English. This is why “jargon-free” communication is such a key selling point for so many law firms - because the best solicitors understand that their clients are usually not lawyers themselves and that they will need to have everything explained to them in terms they will understand, so they can be kept in the loop regarding the progress of their case or contract.

Good communication skills are also vital in terms of putting a strong, persuasive case across in court, or gaining the upper hand in a contentious negotiation or discussion with another party’s representatives. Additionally, these skills will be crucial in helping you work as part of a unified team, with all members able to share ideas and communicate their thoughts to senior and junior colleagues who may not have the same background.

Good time management under pressure

Time is always of the essence in legal work, both from a practical and commercial perspective. Strict and often urgent deadlines are a regular feature of your legal caseload, and these must be met in order to avoid serious consequences.

Significant business deals and mergers can potentially collapse because of a missed deadline, while a failure to submit a court bundle before a hearing will make it impossible for your firm to properly represent a case. Tardiness of this kind can have a devastating impact on your clients’ personal or professional futures, which is why good timekeeping is prized so highly by law firms.

A key part of good time management is making sure that you are flexible, mentally agile and able to properly prioritise, even when circumstances change and plans need to be reformulated at short notice. This also means pushing back on unrealistic or unreasonable demands - if you know that an extension or extra manpower will be needed to achieve a deadline, you need to know when to say so.

As a result of this focus on timekeeping within the sector, most employers will carefully monitor the amount of time you spend on a given task, as a means of monitoring efficiency and ensuring that the firm is offering value for money.

Teamwork and collaboration

Very few successful legal professionals work completely independently. In the vast majority of cases, you will be expected to work closely with colleagues in the same department, or from across the firm, and you will have a responsibility to make sure that you are doing so smoothly to ensure a seamless experience for the client.

However, this should not be seen as an imposition - indeed, teamwork and collaboration are a crucial part of learning and growing as a lawyer. Working as part of a team, you will be able to exchange ideas and share expertise with colleagues, reflecting the fact that not every professional is equally experienced in all areas of the law. This is a crucial learning process for junior solicitors and is also an important way for senior professionals to continue their development.

A strong commitment to collaborative teamwork will help to ensure that you continue to acquire new skills and knowledge, while also making sure that clients are provided with an efficient and professional service, without having to provide the same information twice.

Empathy

Certain soft skills are more likely to be an area of focus in some legal disciplines than others. Having an empathetic personality, for example, will always be seen as a major positive, but is much more likely to be deemed essential for family law or probate cases than for corporate law and real estate.

For those working on emotive cases involving private clients in vulnerable situations, an empathetic approach can make all the difference. These clients are often dealing with bereavements, toxic divorces, recent experiences of trauma or compromised mental states, and must therefore be treated with kindness, patience and understanding to help them understand that you are fully on their side and have their best interests at heart.

Not only is this morally the right thing to do, but it is also crucial to your effectiveness as their advocate. You must earn the trust of your clients in order to make sure they feel comfortable confiding personal information in you that may be vital to building the strongest possible case; this can be difficult if the individual involved has a social impairment or a strong reason to feel mistrustful, which is why empathy is such a valued skill in a solicitor.

Although this capability is particularly important for those dealing with vulnerable clients, it is accurate to say that empathy is vital in all areas of law. Even when dealing with a financial matter or a real estate transaction, being able to put yourself in the client’s mindset and understand their wishes and objectives will help you to do a better job for them.

How to demonstrate your soft skills

By definition, it is more difficult to offer evidence of your soft skills than the ones for which you are able to obtain formalised qualifications. As such, if you wish to highlight your most valuable soft skills in order to further your career, you should be proactive about finding opportunities to develop and demonstrate them.

This may include volunteering for positions or taking on roles that allow you to train your abilities and showcase your transferable skills - for example, if you are looking for a family law role, it can be useful to look for environments where you can show your ability to provide services for people experiencing challenging times. You may already have such experiences in your past; if this is the case, then you should think carefully about how to explain how this work demonstrates that you can provide the soft skills required for the position you aspire to.

In a sector in which recruitment processes are often quite formalised, your measurable hard skills will always play a key role in securing you an interview. However, it will be your ability to showcase the soft skills that will eventually secure you a job and help you thrive in your legal career for many years to come.

 

For support or career advice, check out our resources: