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Hard Evidence for Soft Skills: 9 Essential Attributes to Look for in Legal Recruitment

Crunching data such as law school prestige, class rank and employment history can certainly help legal recruiting teams to identify a cohort of a given law firm’s likely new hires. Are they intelligent? Obviously. Well-networked? Probably. Certain to succeed for themselves and their employers in the dynamic, uniquely humanistic field of real world legal practice? Difficult to say. 

Unless, that is, an authentic evaluation of soft skills is added to the mix. 

Also known as “interpersonal” or “transferable” skills, soft skills are axiomatically difficult to define and equally difficult, though not impossible, to evaluate. Law schools make an effort (of sorts) to teach them; clients, juries and judges respond to them; and savvy professional searches in legal recruitment can and do in fact identify them.

These are the key soft skills we’ve recognized as differentiating top legal talent.

Key Personality Traits For Legal Candidates

1. Genuine desire to help people.

Like great doctors and teachers, great lawyers have a calling to their profession that transcends mere careerism. Clients and attentive recruiters look for lawyers with a selfless passion for assisting others, a passion that engenders the trust and loyalty that enhance their firm’s reputation and their own employee experience.

2. Sensitivity and humility.

Lawyers are, of course, famously well-advised against representing themselves, a certain distanced perspective being critical to successful resolutions. That said, it is equally critical that attorneys gain a thorough understanding of their clients’ situations by fully understanding and assuming their point of view. Seeing the situation through their clients’ eyes facilitates successful resolutions and builds client loyalty.

3. Listening and observing.

Correspondingly, an attorney cannot effectively place herself in her clients’ shoes without really listening and observing. Great lawyers are great listeners. Only with a sophisticated and accurate understanding of their clients’ information can an attorney analyze their situation and, especially where trial law is concerned, follow complex testimony.

4. Integrity.

A sincere commitment to loyalty, honesty, forthrightness, transparency and respect — for others, of course, but also for the law itself — may seem like givens, but it is, sadly, sometimes lacking in the legal profession. Long-lasting and meaningful client-attorney relationships simply cannot be built without integrity and the ethical practice it ensures.

5. Discipline, dependability, and attention to detail.

These, again, seem to go without saying, but their actual execution goes far beyond the pedestrian. Great lawyers are effective because they are productive and punctual. They pride themselves on exhaustive research and thorough analysis. Clients depend on and trust lawyers who are proactive, putting out fires before the client knows they ever started, and jumpstarting projects they hadn’t anticipated.

6. Clarity and communication.

Media portrayals notwithstanding, a successful real world lawyer is viewed by her clients as a genuine, down-to-earth human being — albeit one with a highly specialized and individually tailored skill set. Consequently, good lawyers are easily understood in part because they avoid legalese. They establish trust by personalizing relationships and recognizing the individual qualities, interests, and needs of the clients with whom they work.

7. Creativity and problem-solving.

The law is by definition a set of rules, regulations, standard procedures, and precedents. For some, that renders its practice a rote, hidebound affair. The best plans of action, however, aren’t always the most obvious or easiest. The best legal candidates are creative problem-solvers, applying their unique analytical skills to outmaneuver opponents and produce unexpected results.   

8. Teamwork and leadership.

The law doesn’t exist in a social vacuum, and neither do its practitioners. Successful attorneys are team players and team builders who use persuasion, personality and camaraderie to thrive in collaborative environments. Close working relationships with clients are one obvious example. But relationships with partners, paralegals, judges, and other attorneys are equally important. 

9. Emotional intelligence (EQ) and stress management.

Relatedly, the legal professional can look cold and impersonal to outsiders. Great lawyers know better. In addition to the long, often irregular hours and high stakes, lawyers are subject to and may assimilate their clients’ emotional stress. Successful outcomes result from productive client management and their attorney’s clear, though caring, EQ-informed thought process.                       

Hard skills are easily measured. Highly subjective, performance-determined soft skills are something else again. And while any professional search that fails to identify and evaluate soft skills — an evaluation no executive recruitment service performing due diligence can consciously omit — would be of limited value at best, the identification of such skills is as finely-grained and subtle as the skills themselves.

Deep Legal Recruitment & Advisory Expertise

Thought leaders in legal and professional recruitment for more than 40 years, Cochran, Cochran & Yale understand the centrality of a legal associate’s soft skills to a law firm’s success. We transform workplace culture by putting the right people in the right seats doing the right things, and we have the data-driven audits to prove it. Speak to a CC&Y expert today and put their time-tested success to work for your firm and the reputation for integrity and success you earn every day.