Good attorneys possess certain skills that make them better lawyers. Some of these skills can be learned, and some can be developed over time, while others seem to be coded into a good attorney’s DNA.
These skills are valued by clients, appreciated by judges and juries, and perhaps envied by peers. Let’s briefly examine four necessary characteristics of a good attorney.
These four skills are must-haves for good attorneys
Good Attorney Skill 1: Listening
This is the first order of business. When a client comes to you for help, you cannot begin to add value until you understand what the client needs and why. Listening carefully enables you to gather all information that may be relevant to the case. With careful listening, you’re prompted to probe to learn more, so that you understand every angle of the case. Keen listening can also keep you from wasting time later on or having to backtrack on strategy because you missed a key point. And it’s important to continue listening to your client throughout the case. Good attorney skills start with good listening skills.
Skill 2: Communicating
All good attorneys communicate clearly and concisely in both spoken and written form. Speaking and writing clearly begins with an organized mind. It continues with the ability to form cogent thoughts that listeners and readers can follow.
Good communicators avoid overwhelming their clients with legalese, or making juries feel as if they are in the weeds. Attorneys who are good communicators articulate points in a way that judges appreciate as well. A good attorney never forgets that he or she is a guide, representing a client, and the best guides are good communicators who are clear and easy to follow.
Skill 3: Researching
Solid legal research is the foundation of a successful case. In the same way that good cooking begins with a good recipe, good lawyering begins with good research. Opinions and professional experience alone are not sufficient to make a case, or a career.
Research resources range from the Internet, law books, statutes, and regulations to case law and judicial opinions. Legal research is so important to a case that law schools require law students and paralegal students to take classes in the subject. Good attorneys are adept at using all the online resources available to them, employing investigative services, and conducting thorough research. Because failing to do these things may result in a bad outcome for the client.
Good Attorney Skill 4: Analyzing
A good attorney possesses an analytical and curious mind. Analytical skills enable good attorneys to digest volumes of information quickly. To think on their feet. To hear or read, process, and understand new information in short order. Even the most well-organized lawyer will need to be nimble, able to shift gears fast during hearings, and analyze quickly when opposing counsel introduces a surprise. Analytical skills are useful in evaluating all points of view in a case in order to form a 360-degree picture. Good attorney skills include good analytical skills.
These additional skills are useful, too
There are other important skills that are central to good lawyering, of course. Being responsive to clients, partners, paralegals, and others engaged in your case lets them know you appreciate them and that you take the case very seriously. Maintaining empathy, in spite of having to play hardball at times, keeps you open to new ideas and experiences. A high degree of intelligence is always a great asset.
However, these four fundamental skills — the ability to listen, communicate, research, and analyze — are essential to being or becoming a good attorney. And that’s an aspiration we can all appreciate.