I am an un(der)employed attorney. There, I said it. I’m 5 months out from passing the bar and being sworn in and I’m still mostly unemployed. In my quest for employment, I’ve started thinking about the skills I can gain to be more competitive in my job search. While some of these are easy, finding skills that are great for a lawyer to have and honing those skills proves to be difficult.
Law school provides you with the basic skills necessary to being an attorney: reading cases, legal writing, and good problem solving skills. But, every successful law student gains those skills. When you’re up against the top of the class graduate and someone with 5 years experience, your competitive edge dissipates. With all the newfound freedom of job searching, working on soft skills and gaining experience in varying fields can prove to be beneficial in interviews.
According to IAALS, lawyers look for skills far beyond the typical professionalism and legal skills. In fact, the top skill lawyers look for in new associates is character. Character, including work ethic, integrity, and common sense were listed by over half of the survey respondents as important qualities. Along with good character, good people skills and understanding the other side prove to be valuable skills for lawyers.
So, how do you go about working on these skills and finding tangible examples for interviews? For me, focusing on being a good person has been immensely helpful. By getting involved in my community and working toward my goal of “Leslie Knope” of lawyers, I’ve found my ability to be compassionate and understanding have increased. Learning how to actively listen by quieting my mind through meditation has helped me connect with clients and see problems I may have otherwise missed. Working to keep my promises and be punctual to meetings has boosted my credentials and reliability with those who will later recommend me for jobs.
All of my changes have been small, but when added together, the overall change in my ability to interview well and show I can be a productive asset for a firm has been much easier. Instead of showing I can do XYZ motion, I can point to work with Junior League or the animal shelter to show I can be relied on and genuinely care about my community. Staying punctual and following through on what I’ve promised has show opposing counsel, who may be my future boss, that I am accountable. So, in your free time, pick a skill and work, work, work!
What skills do you think it’s important for lawyers to have in their first year?