What makes a good lawyer? The answer will vary somewhat according to whom you ask, but there are a handful of skills and traits that come up repeatedly.
These shared traits speak to the core of what a lawyer does—practice law in service of others—and cultivating them allows a decent lawyer to move beyond simply checking the proverbial box to providing high-quality legal services.
5. Depth of knowledge
A good lawyer needs to have a thorough understanding of their practice area. In short, they need depth of knowledge—which is not the same as breadth.
Lay people tend to think that a lawyer can help them on any legal matter—from estate planning to an international adoption to expanding a business. However, a good lawyer cultivates depth within their practice area, taking the time to garner the education and experience that lead to real expertise.
Successful lawyers tend to develop a tenacity of spirit that allows them to keep moving forward, even on difficult days. From minor disappointments and surprises to large ones, good lawyers can take a deep breath, put things in perspective, and continue moving forward.
This tenacity and perseverance are what lets them continue past the rockier moments so that they can continue enjoying the rewards of an intellectually rigorous and meaningful profession.
3. A good listener
Good lawyers listen. As a lawyer, it is so easy to have a sense of having seen it all before. Ten years into a career as a divorce lawyer, you may well have heard just about every dramatic, twist-and-turn story in the book.
But that’s no reason to stop listening to the full details of what your clients have to say. The specific details of their lives are relevant to their case. And listening is essential to building a strong partnership with your client.
Over the course of a matter, a sense of partnership and teamwork will be what helps keep you engaged and successful in putting forth the best work you can. Plus, we hear it helps with referrals.
2. A strong communicator
Strong communication skills are essential for every lawyer. While this certainly includes an ability to communicate verbally—in court and with clients—it especially consists of the ability to write well.
Clear writing is the backbone of well-reasoned legal documents. If your reader has to spend too much time figuring out what you’re saying, the argument will be lost on them.
Instead, aim to keep developing your writing skills. Clarity and the ability to tell a compelling story can transform a judge’s reading experience.
The word “compassion” comes from the Latin “compati,” which means “to suffer with.” It entails a genuine recognition of someone else’s suffering and a desire to help them resolve their issue.
While this emphasis on emotional connection may not seem obvious when you think about what you learned in law school, it’s the key to making your work meaningful and inspiring a real passion for what you do. Without that, it’s hard to bring dedication and genuine enthusiasm to your desk year after year.
Compassion helps you take better care of your clients, and it’s how you stay engaged in what you do so that your job becomes a career.
We all have relatively greater or lesser inclinations toward the skills and traits mentioned above. If you suspect there’s an area where you could stand to strengthen a skill, do so!
It can be easy to feel that our skills today are “just” how we are, but the truth is that many experiences, opportunities influence us, and people—and there can be real value in intentionally developing your abilities more, especially those that can help you become an even better lawyer.