Susan Swaim Daicoff 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The legal profession is in the midst of rapid and dramatic change, fueled by longstanding dissatisfaction within and outside the profession, and inflamed by the economic recession, societal changes, and technological advances. Concomitant changes are occurring in legal education, which is also under fire. Lawyers may no longer be able simply to rely on training in excellent legal analysis and advocacy, written and oral communication skills, trial skills, and traditional pre-litigation negotiation and settlement. The legal profession is rife with commentary exploring how to be more marketable in the law profession of the future, given the rapid changes fostered by technology, disruptive concepts and strategies, the need for sustainability, and outsourcing. Law schools are sustaining criticism for providing unsatisfactory returns on investment to law students, when students compare their employment prospects with educational costs. A reevaluation of the competencies and training needed to be a 21st century lawyer, thus, seems appropriate. In the last 30 years, at least six empirical studies have been published examining the most important skills and competencies for lawyers. These studies typically survey practicing lawyers, although some administer tests to attorneys who have been identified as being particularly effective, professionally. Some studies also survey judges, law professors, and law students in order to identify what it takes to be excellent lawyers. The results reveal an “expanded toolkit” for lawyers, including skills often overlooked in law school. Some of these studies provide empirical evidence that certain, nontraditional skills of law practice differentiate the most successful lawyers from the rest of the pack. For example, a series of Canadian studies reported that top performing lawyers outstrip other lawyers in nontraditional “emotional intelligence” competencies such as stress management, independence, self-knowledge, general mood, and problem solving. These “top” performers were identified by clients and other lawyers as top lawyers. These studies found that top lawyers’ general emotional intelligence scores were higher than average, mainly due to the five skills above; interestingly, the “top” female Canadian lawyers in this series of studies reported that their interpersonal skills needed improvement. In all of these studies, practicing lawyers consistently listed soft skills as essential for law practice, alongside more traditional skills such as legal analysis, writing, and advocacy. The soft skills named in these studies were: instilling others’ confidence in you, negotiation, counseling, obtaining and keeping clients, honesty, integrity, reliability, judgment, maturity, dealing effectively with others, motivation, continued professional development, tolerance, patience, understanding human behavior, self-confidence, listening, working cooperatively in a team, problem solving, networking,mediation, and strategic planning Happily, legal education has been including training in many of these important skills for years. Specifically, clinical law school courses, externship programs, professional responsibility and ethics courses, and interviewing, counseling, and negotiating courses often include training in many of these skills. Legal education reform also has begun to include problem-solving, practical exercises, and collaborative work in law school courses, thus addressing the need for training in some of these competencies. However, some of these competencies may be overlooked in one’s training for a career in the law. Those that might therefore require a bit of additional attention are: instilling others’ confidence in you, obtaining and keeping clients, honesty, integrity, reliability, judgment, maturity, motivation, continued professional development, tolerance, patience, self confidence, networking, and strategic planning. Of these, some might argue that abstract qualities such as honesty, integrity, reliability, judgment, maturity, motivation, tolerance, patience, and self confidence are the kinds of qualities one develops in one’s family of origin, rather than during professional training. However, I challenge lawyers and law students to consciously work towards excellence in all of these competencies. First, we could become more conscious of the skills and competencies these interesting studies have identified as essential to the practice of law. Second, we could begin to rate ourselves, on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 10 (very much so), in terms of how much we possess each skill or competency listed above. Third, we could investigate resources for continuing to develop our competencies in each area. This can be as simple as asking a trusted friend, family member, or colleague for feedback on whether they perceive you as “patient,” or as complicated as taking an online course on “strategic planning,” for example. Some professionals employ professional coaches or life coaches, in this endeavor, and many former lawyers serve as lawyer/coaches, having received formal training to do so. Many excellent resources are available for continued professional development for lawyers and may even qualify for continuing legal education credit. See www. cuttingedgelaw.com for information on obtaining a lawyer/coach and other innovations in the law. The full-length law review article exploring these ideas is forthcoming in Santa Clara Law Review, 2012. The time is ripe for change; thankfully, empirical evidence can provide direction as to what training to target, in preparing for the legal profession of the future.
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