7 Soft Skills All Employers Look For In a Law Graduate.
One of the biggest myths among law grads when going job hunting is that the brightest candidate with the most appealing academic credentials often gets the preference. In reality, however, recruiters are far less likely to make hiring decisions on this criteria alone. In today’s legal marketplace, virtually all law firms are driven by the need to stay both competitive and profitable.
And many times, law firms tend to engage in a lot of cost-benefit analysis in their recruitment drive so they bring on board only such job candidates with certain key competencies that fit in with their firms overall mission, otherwise known as soft skills. As a job applicant with these soft skills, you’ll stand head and shoulders above other job applicants. Below are seven of these skills.
(1) Financial Literacy.
Contrary to what many might expect, financial literacy isn’t a necessity solely for lawyers in transactional or corporate practice but an indispensably marketable skill for both generalist lawyers and law students in today’s commercially biased legal practice where the majority of the lawyers clients are restrictively people in the business world.
As a result, lawyers and law students are expected to understand financial literacy for the same reason that we engage in the economic analysis of law. This requires that lawyers not only provide solutions that benefit the client regulatory-wise but with a direct impact on their bottom line as well.
Essentially, it mandates that lawyers have a grasp of business fundamentals and be quite fluent in the language of business people. An understanding of this concept not only guarantees a lawyer’s value-for-money to a client but could be the ideal game changer for even law graduates seeking jobs in a tough legal employment market. In most legal interviews, candidates are often evenly matched experience and qualification-wise.
But as a candidate with a resume that attests to your financial literacy not only does that enhance your job suitability but it speaks volumes about the value you are bringing to the firm. In nearly all interviews, it results in your getting hired. And it’s not that difficult to get a hang of it.
You don’t need to get an accounting degree or an MBA. (But it’s a plus if you can find the time.) All you need is a slight grasp of financial statements or balance sheet, business jargons and a couple of other tidbits you can pick up just by reading popular financial blogs like the Wall Street journal, Bloomberg, and Financial Times. If you are not financial literate as a law graduate, now is as good a time as any to start becoming one.
(2) Commercial Literacy
Just like financial literacy, commercial awareness is another useful business-savvy soft skill lawyers and law graduates are being goaded to pick up. Only this time, you are not being asked to get a grasp of business fundamentals, but rather being up-to-the-minute with the latest headlines from the business world. It’s that simple really, yet it could be the reason you lose out on a legal job opening.
When law firms are interviewing for any legal position, they are probably looking out for a candidate who understands the firm’s position relative to its competition, and how emerging business trends affect its profitability and those of its clients. As a recent law grad out job hunting, you’ll have better chances of getting a position at law firms if you can prove your commercial relevance. You’ll get this by regularly reading up on the latest business news and other relevant news about the firm in question.
(3) Good Communication Skills
Effective communication is the mainstay of legal practice, irrespective of your legal specialty as a lawyer. The importance of excellent communication skills to the lawyer’s work cannot be over-emphasized. Whether you are engaged in negotiations or locked in courtroom litigation, you’ll have to effectively articulate the position of the party whom you are representing if you are to succeed. Having excellent communication skills won’t only raise the quality of your oral arguments but will enhance your writing in every way. As a law graduate with the ability to express yourself both verbally and in writing there won’t be any employer who wouldn’t love to have you on their team.
(4) Attention to Detail
Attention to detail is another vitally important skill that both clients and law firms look out for in their lawyers.
Thomas Edison, the great American scientist and inventor, was once said to have lost a patent due to a misplaced decimal point. Not much was made of that error though, but if it were a lawyer the least he could have expected was a lawsuit for professional negligence.
Because when clients hire lawyers, they expect them to demonstrate a high level of competence, thoroughness and accuracy in their legal work. Be sloppy and they’ll quite literally be calling for your head.
As a law graduate, errors in your work (and even your resume) be it grammar, spelling or punctuation, are things you’ll want to avoid or they’ll will reflect badly on your career and be a complete turn off to your potential employers. If you are preparing for any legal job interview, employers would want you to show them you’ll be approaching your work with meticulous care.
(5) Intellectual Ability
In any interview, recruiters would want to know if you’ve got exactly what it takes to be working as barrister in the highly knotty legal field. But unlike the previous skills, this one is a measure of what you’ve got up top. Are you brainy enough? Can you analyze complex legal issues in an astute and intelligible way? Are you good at research? To what’s extent is your knowledge of substantive law?
These are just a few yardstick interviewers would likely employ to evaluate your intellectual ability. As a general rule, your academic achievements and your grades at graduation might be used to size you up. But if you’ve been a studious student throughout your undergraduate days, then this is a test you’ll no doubt pass.
(6) A Strong Work Ethic
As a practicing lawyer, you’ll be working massive hours in an unusually longer work week. You’ll have to sit in the office taking down client orders and sorting through a ton of mundane work files and all that. Having to work for this long dehumanizing hours should perhaps account for the rising stats on depression among many lawyers.
That said, recruiters would want some evidence you know what you’re getting yourself into and have the right attitude and motivation to work exceptionally hard at helping the firm achieve its goals. And if you don’t consider working in the immensely high-pressure and intensely demanding law firm work environment that big a deal, then you’ve already got one foot in door at the firm with your excellent work ethic.
(7) Adaptability at Short Notice
While surfing the net recently, I came by a certain blog article with a catchy title that read “Lawyers Must Show Adaptability in a World Full of Change.” I was really struck by it, I have to say.
In a way, it served me another uncomfortable reminder of the turmoil of legal practice where lawyers are ceaselessly stressed by having their well-thought-out plans disrupted by emergencies.
But amidst these downpour of unexpected annoyances, you have to prove your mettle by clever improvisation and never lose your cool. In this field, that’s par for the course.
Being a lawyer means you’ll have to come to grasp with the fact that no decision you make is set in stone since there’s a constant replay of Murphy’s Law where “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” in your life. When recruiters look through a room packed full with employment hopefuls, they’ll probably be eying any candidate who could show them their adaptability and ability to negotiate their way out of potentially stressful situations. Can you handle that? Then you might well be in the running.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LLB from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja. In his spare time, Patrick doubles as a professional writer and copyeditor.
If you have any urgent enquiries, you can email him @[email protected]