What skills do I need to secure a legal career?

I recently provided some comments for an article on the skills needed for a legal career and it occurred to me that I need to share this information on the Law Careers Blog.  If you are interested in the full article you can access it via the link at the end of this blog post. 

What are the top skills someone needs to secure a legal career?

  • People skills – law is a career in which the ability to build effective relationships with others and work collaboratively (clients, colleagues, team members, other professionals) is paramount. 
  • Communication skills – the ability to communicate clearly and concisely (orally and in writing) is key to not only developing good quality relationships it also underpins the provision of high quality legal services and exceptional customer service.
  • Customer/client service – the ability to understand the client, their context and the presenting and underlying issues enables good lawyers to provide high quality customised legal advice and services.  
  • Commercial awareness –  in a nutshell ‘business sense’; understanding what’s going on in the world, how businesses operate and remain profitable and the impact events may have on an organisation is fundamental to providing the customised solutions that clients expect.
  • Research, analysis and attention to detail are key skills that underpin the process of providing legal advice which is accurate, precise, fit for purpose and cognisant of legal requirements.
  • Creative problem solving – lawyers work in a complex and dynamic world which requires them to think outside the box and to come up with innovative solutions.
  • Resilience and self-confidence – the Law is demanding and competitive, it requires courage and self-belief and the strength of character to deal with the challenges that will inevitably arise including the initial challenge of gaining entry to the profession. 

Do you have any thoughts on how candidates can demonstrate these skills?

In my dealings with Law firms what has consistently come across is that they are very open to students with a range of experience.  The most important thing is that students proactively seek experience (including legal experience), are able to reflect on the value of that experience for them and identify the skills they have developed through it and their personal learning and achievements.

Legal experience – in addition to vacation schemes  and mini pupillages (which are limited in number) students can gain legal experience on campus by attending Law Fairs/firm presentations and engaging with firm representatives, by taking an active part in student Law Societies and their activities including mooting.  Opportunities exist to gain legal experience through law departments which may include legal research, editorial projects and work with the local Law Centre.  Off campus there are opportunities to attend court (public gallery) and smaller Law firms may offer work experience to students who approach them direct.

Other experience – Law firms have emphasized the value of other work and extra-curricular experience in enabling students to develop and articulate their skills.  In my experience involvement in clubs/societies where students take on additional responsibilities can provide very powerful evidence to meet employers’ competency requirements.  It also helps students reflect on what is important to them and the strengths and abilities they want to use in future job roles.  Working part-time during term time and during the vacation is great experience and where students understand what the business is trying to achieve and their role within it can help them demonstrate their commercial awareness.  Similarly involvement in enterprise and entrepreneurial activities provides great personal development opportunities and insight into business priorities. 

Can you think of any out-of-the-box skills/attributes a candidate should have that will impress employers in the legal sector?

Commercial awareness – a frequent complaint from Law firms is that applicants lack commercial awareness and some really good candidates have not succeeded at application or interview because of this. (Read our Law careers blog post on commercial awareness demystified).  

I think that students who have a year abroad can really stand out from the crowd and are often of particular interest to Law firms and other employers.  This is for a range of reasons including their global experience, cultural awareness and sensitivity, their ability to be adaptable, self-sufficient, resilient and open minded to name just some of the attributes that students may be able to evidence from their year abroad.  

Want to read the article that these comments contributed to? visit Law Absolute.

Valerie Matthews-Lane

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