Soft-skills in law. Why qualifications are no longer the be-all and end-all

by Heat Recruitment

Fuelled by technological advancements and a continued squeeze on fees, the legal industry is experiencing an era of turbulence and transformation. When it comes to professional development, an increasing volume of law firms are focusing on soft-skills as a measure of top legal talent. Now, behavioural strengths that were previously overlooked in favour of the textbook-taught ‘hard’ skills and niche practice areas are finally being recognised as critical components of a well-rounded lawyer.

In today’s digital economy, it is no longer enough to be an expert in your chosen field, or top of your class at university; lawyers are expected to be accomplished project managers with a natural aptitude for technology.  As well as essential qualifications, legal professionals today need a whole new armoury of skills to succeed in delivering a first-class service to their clients. These include:

Strong interpersonal skills

It’s ironic that the skills required to practice the technical aspects of the law are in fact the polar opposite of those needed to build strong relationships. For example, an in-house lawyer doesn’t solely depend on their knowledge of commercial law to guide the company through the risk landscape with ease.

Instead, they balance a multi-dimensional role that hinges on effective communication. Similarly, those working in a law firm require strong interpersonal skills to promote long-lasting client relationships; they need a certain degree of emotional intelligence in order to deliver tailored advice and secure desired outcomes.

Negotiation skills

Expert-level negotiation is a core skill of any successful lawyer. But surprisingly, not all lawyers are good negotiators in all situations. All too often, lawyers assume good negotiation means to secure a win-lose outcome: not only must they always be right, but the other side must be wrong and there’s rarely any wiggle-room.

In fact, skilful negotiation often involves compromise and an ability to sell your proposition. When entering into negotiation, consider what the other side needs: how can you demonstrate that your proposal will meet these requirements? How can you close the gap between your suggested outcome and their expectations?

Teamwork

Gone are the days where the legal profession could be characterised by the phrase ‘every man for himself.’ Today, top lawyers possess the ability to be a useful and productive member of a team. As legal issues grow increasingly complex and clients demand to see real value-added input from their lawyers, those who are open to collaboration with their colleagues will thrive from the shared knowledge and fresh perspective on offer.

Of course, lawyers haven’t traditionally worked in a team-oriented way, so it’s only natural to experience teething pains early on. However, by allowing a client access to a wide range of specialist lawyers rather than just one, loyalty and retention are drastically improved.

Commercial and financial acumen

Whether in-house or part of a firm, lawyers today require an in-depth awareness of the commercial environment in which their clients and law firm are operating. That way, they are fully equipped to deliver legal advice which aligns with a client’s commercial circumstances as well as the wider business strategy of their law firm. Budding students seeking to secure traineeships at a law firm of their choice would be wise to look to their websites to gain insight into the deals they’re working on as well as assessing how current affairs could affect particular firms in the future.

If you’re looking for your next top-tier employee, or a candidate seeking a change of career, get in touch with our team at Heat Recruitment today. We’re experts in the legal sector and are here to help.

By Will Cairns