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The 5 critical legal skills you probably don’t have

the top legal skills you probably don't have

Ok, ok, settle down. Obviously, there are hundreds of thousands of highly-skilled lawyers out there. They went to great schools, got great grades, practice at great firms, and have a high percentage of “wins” in front of juries.

We’re not saying you’re not a great lawyer…but legal experts are predicting that there is a looming legal skills crisis that we should probably pay attention to.

Simply put, the practice of law is changing and in addition to things like excellent communication skills and higher-than-average intelligence, today’s lawyers need a whole additional set of skills to keep clients, colleagues, and juries satisfied.

So lawyers, ask yourself, do you have these critical legal skills?

#1: Technological sophistication

There can be no doubt that legal technologies, like most other technologies, have exploded in the last twenty years.

Heck, when I started practicing law in 1999, the PDA was the height of technological sophistication. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find one outside of a tech museum.

The thing is, technological innovation isn’t slowing down. Consequently, you may not possess the requisite skills for success if you understand today’s technologies, but aren’t willing to constantly learn emerging technologies. In fact, legal technology is becoming so important to the practice of law that some law schools have specialized programs focused on current and future legal tech innovations.

Importantly, most states have adopted an ethical rule of competence that includes a lawyer’s duty to remain technologically competent.

What that means is that being a Luddite is no longer a charming, elder lawyer’s prerogative. All lawyers need to be able to use and understand the technologies that will give their clients the best representation. Things like artificial intelligence and machine learning are about to become commonplace in legal technology.

Do you have the skills to keep up?

#2: Emotional intelligence

One of the other top skills needed to be a lawyer in this day and age is emotional intelligence. Gone are the days when hyperbole, loud-mouthery, and emotional outbursts win the day.

Indeed, one of the key components of emotional intelligence is emotional regulation. In other words, you need to be able to keep it together, especially when tensions run high.

If you study lists of things lawyers do to annoy judges, you’ll see that many of them center on behaviors that lack emotional regulation (such as eye-rolling or excessive mannerisms).

Emotional intelligence is particularly important to millennial legal professionals, who are poised to occupy roughly 75% of legal staff positions in under a decade.

In other words, having unrestrained emotions is unlikely to regain popularity in the future.

Consequently, if you are a lawyer who is prone to theatrics, you need to ask yourself whether your habits are serving your practice and your clients well.

#3: Humility

While we’re still thinking about emotional intelligence, let’s take a few minutes to talk about humility. To many, humility seems like the antithesis of a skill you’d want from an attorney. After all, aren’t lawyers supposed to be supremely confident and self-assured?

Well, yes and no.

It is possible to be confident while simultaneously being honest and building relationships on that honesty.

Honesty, sincerity, and strong character are not only some of the key characteristics of humble people, but also some of the key characteristics of the best leaders.

If you’re not very braggadocious, don’t worry. That calm, humble demeanor may just be the skill that gives you the edge in today’s legal market.

#4: Wanderlust

According to the Meriam-Webster Dictionary, wanderlust is “the strong longing or impulse toward wandering.”

Why would anyone want their lawyer to have wanderlust?

We’re glad you asked.

In years past, there was a popular perception that the perpetually-stressed, overworked attorney was the very best one you could have. After all, who wouldn’t want an attorney who was obsessively committed to their case?

It turns out that all of that work (and an absence of play) can lead to things like alcoholism and mental health problems.

Lawyers need vacations. The time off allows you to reset, refocus, reconnect with your family, and perhaps avoid years on the therapist’s couch. So, while it may seem cool to be the bug-eyed, caffeine-slurping lawyer who sacrifices everything for the job, it turns out that it’s actually more important to build the skill of taking time off when needed.

#5: Sense of humor

In addition to having the opportunity to relax once in a while, you definitely want to laugh at a good joke (and I don’t mean the “what do you call 100 attorneys at the bottom of the ocean” joke – we’re ALL tired of that one).

Medical experts have long told us that laughter is an excellent stress reliever. Sadly, many attorneys lack the natural skill of laughter and suffer the health consequences such as migraines, chest pain, and chronic autoimmune disorder.

You don’t want to be rushed to the hospital on the day of trial due to an acute inability to find your funny bone. Make sure that laughter and a keen sense of humor are high on your list of legal skills.

Final thoughts

While these skills may not be the ones you expected to find in an article about critical attorney skills, they are all very important for the modern legal professional.

Come to think of it, these actually might be skills that would be good for all of us to possess. What do you think?


  • Jennifer Anderson

    Jennifer Anderson is the founder of Attorney To Author, where she helps legal professionals bring their book projects to life. She was a California attorney for nearly two decades before becoming a freelance writer, marketing/branding consultant, ghostwriter, and writing coach. Her upcoming book, Breaking Out of Writer's Block, Exercises and inspirations for getting the words out of your head and onto the page, is due out in September 2023.

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