For years the road to being a lawyer was obvious – finish study, finish training, successfully pass the bar exam and get admitted as a lawyer. Today’s legal market is much more complicated, and formal education and training do not guarantee a well-paid job as a lawyer. The legal practice is not only about knowing the law. It is about being a better lawyer and to be better you need to have certain legal skills (or work on these skills) in order to excel in the legal market.
Clear and concise language is perhaps one of the most important legal skills any lawyer should have. After all your clients expect you to communicate persuasively and advance their cause. Whether it is a court hearing or an informal meeting, you are expected to advocate your client’s position in a manner that will help him or her to win the case. To do that, you need to master legal terminology in addition to being a persuasive speaker.
Tips on how to improve oral communication:
- Read more: reading, whether is a business text, a newspaper or novels can improve your vocabulary
- Prepare: take simple notes of what you are going to say. Be prepared for awkward questions
- Listen with interest: oral communication is not only about speaking but more about being an attentive listener
- Honest is the best policy: telling people that “you don’t know, but you will find out” is better than trying to give an answer you hope will work.
Writing is an integral part of any legal position. You need to draft documents, write letters or motions. You need to master the stylistic and mechanical aspects of writing. Once again, concise and persuasive language is a must for any writing piece. Mastering the basics of English grammar will make your writing more professional.
Tips on how to improve written communication:
- Write shorter sentences: research shows that the reader achieves 90% comprehension at 14 words and that understanding reduces to 10% at 43 words
- Be clear about key messages: when your key messages stand out, the reader is more clear of what you convey
- Concise structure: research shows that the brain can manage little beyond 7 points. So a maximum of 7 sections is good for writing
- Proofread every piece of work: it’s better to put some distance between the writing and proofreading. Otherwise, you will read what you think it says not what it actually does.
Legal Skills: Client communication skills
In a client-drive legal practice, effective client communication skills are crucial for success. Clients expect to see professionalism but not only that. Being honest and responsible are as important. After all, you are communicating with humans, and this is important to remember when dealing with clients.
Tips on how to improve client communication:
- Establish a human connection: A Client Experience expert says, “You can be informal and still be professional.” Two people are communicating, and the human element is important to break the barriers. Adding a personal touch like a handwritten note flourishes the relationship.
- Be an active listener: your client expects you to understand his or her cause and build your actions on his or her preferences. We all have a tendency to let our mind wander from time to time and being an active listener is not as easy as it sounds.
- Be consistent: you need to be consistent in your messaging and the way you communicate. When you first interact, your client develops certain expectations. Breaking patterns will not serve good, and your client will be a bit thrown off.
Legal Research Skills
Mastery of legal research techniques is as important as other legal skills. You need to learn how to locate and synthesize legal authority, master the art of statutory interpretation, learn proper legal citation, master legal research software applications, and internet research.
Tips on how to improve your legal research skills:
- Identify the research question: it is important to formulate the research question concisely to keep the focus
- First, consult a secondary source: you need to read key articles, core texts to have perspective on how your specific issue fits into a broader legal context. Pay attention to references to statutes and case citations
- Identify the relevant statutes: if you researched secondary sources, you must have identified applicable statutes. You may consult databases like Westlaw, Lexis Library, Legislation.gov
- Use digests and databases: digests are an excellent resource to identify relevant case law. You can also search by subject terms.
Other skills important for legal practice are time management, commercial awareness, attention to detail, resilience and confidence and more.
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