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Skills For Successful Lawyering

There are few things more pleasing to a judge than to see the work of really skilled lawyers. Sometimes the skill is on display in the courtroom. Effective oral arguments and penetrating cross examinations are a pleasure for a judge to behold. Really good lawyers make it look easy, but the ease is only an illusion. Effective courtroom presentations take great skill, often honed over years of practice.

“Judges are not impressed with a lawyer’s grand gestures or the florid verbosity we see on TV or at the movies. What a judge likes about lawyers is that they come to court prepared to harness the facts and the law, and present them in a logical fashion that appeals not so much to the heart as to the mind. Few people, whether judges or jurors, are impressed by the verbal flourish.” Justice Mel Dickstein

Marjorie Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck have identified the following factors that contribute to lawyers' efficiency—

  1. analysis and reasoning;
  2. creativity/innovation;
  3. practical judgment;
  4. researching the law;
  5. passion and engagement;
  6. questioning and interviewing;
  7. influencing and advocating;
  8. writing, speaking,
  9. integrity/honesty;
  10. ability to see the world through the eyes of others;
  11. self-development;
  12. organizing and managing others;
  13. negotiation skills;
  14. networking and business development;
  15. building client relationship including advice and counsel;
  16. organizing and managing own work;
  17. developing relationships;
  18. evaluation/development/mentoring;
  19. problem solving and stress management;
  20. fact finding, diligence and listening;
  21. community involvement and service; and
  22. strategic planning.

A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice—

  1. As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions.
  2. As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients; employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education.
  3. As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession.
  4. As advisor, a lawyer provides a client with an informed understanding of the client's legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications.
  5. As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client's position under the rules of the adversary system.
  6. As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealing with others.
  7. As intermediary between clients, a lawyer seeks to reconcile their divergent interests as an advisor and, to a limited extent, as a spokesperson for each client.

Effective lawyers are not only skilled intellects, but also excel at questioning and interviewing, communicating and persuading, planning and managing, resolving conflict, entrepreneurship, working with others, and making ethical decisions.“ Marjorie Schultz and Sheldon Zedeck

A lawyer's responsibility as a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen are usually harmonious. Thus, when an opposing party is well represented, a lawyer can be a zealous advocate on behalf of a client and at the same time assume that justice is being done. So also, a lawyer can be sure that preserving client confidences ordinarily serves the public interest because people are more likely to seek legal advice, and thereby heed their legal obligations, when they know their communications will be private.

In the nature of law practice, however, conflicting responsibilities are encountered. Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer's responsibilities to clients, to the legal system and to the lawyer's own interest in remaining an upright person while earning a satisfactory living. The Rules of Professional Conduct prescribe terms for resolving such conflicts. Within the framework of these rules, many difficult issues of professional discretion can arise. Such issues must be resolved through the exercise of sensitive professional and moral judgment guided by the basic principles underlying the rules.

Lawyer should be competent

In all professional functions, a lawyer should be competent, prompt and diligent. He should maintain communication with a client concerning the representation. He should keep in confidence information relating to representation of a client except so far as disclosure is required or permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

Legal employers and clients desire lawyers who can communicate well, are able to collaborate effectively, are motivated and hard-working, can work independently but know when to ask for guidance, and are able to effectively plan projects.” Marcus & Stanley

The role of competence in law is rather unique since it is not only an attribute important for its practitioners to possess, but is also part of the very cornerstone on which the adversary system of Anglo-American law is based. This is the principle' that if the parties to a dispute are equally represented in a legal forum, the truth will out. The problem is that equal representation is apparently not guaranteed by standards governing admission to the bar, and it is for this reason that the issue of competence represents one of the most important-and troublesome-concerns of the legal profession.1)

Legal competence is measured by the extent to which an attorney:

  1. is specifically knowledgeable about the fields of law in which he or she practices;
  2. performs the techniques of such practice with skill;
  3. manages such practice efficiently;
  4. identifies issues beyond his or her competence relevant to the matter undertaken, bringing these to the client’s attention;
  5. properly prepares and carries through the matter undertaken; and
  6. is intellectually, emotionally, and physically capable.

Important skills for successful lawyering

Some of the important skills for successful lawyering may be summarized as following:

People skills

As a legal professional, according to Jemma Smith, you will have to work alongside a variety of people and more often than not winning a case will be a team effort. Solicitors need to collaborate with colleagues and partners in their firm, as well as liaise with clients. Barristers need to foster a close working relationship with their clerks and will often work high-profile cases alongside other barristers, as workloads on such cases are too heavy for one representative. The ability to work as part of a team is therefore essential and you will need the skills to deal with people from all levels of the legal hierarchy, from trainees and pupils, to members of the judiciary.

Research skills

Being a lawyer requires you to do some background research to help you and your client better. Improving your research skills will go a long way in not only speeding up the process, but also in ensuring you gather accurate and useful information. A successful lawyer can take in all the information, analyze it, and come up with a solution or conclusion best suited for the situation.

Communication skills

Lawyers must be orally articulate, have good written communication skills and be good listeners. In order to argue convincingly in the courtroom before juries and judges, good public speaking skills are essential.

Competence of communication is vital nearly in every aspect of lawyers’ practice. Most of lawyers’ work requires interaction with people: listening to clients, building rapport with clients, handle affairs for clients, persuading judges or rivals, and etc. The key to lawyers’ success lies in the mastery of skills of communication, such as how to listen, how to persuade, and how to satisfy emotional and psychological needs of clients, judges, or opposing parties. As a matter of fact, they treat all them with professional expertise.2)

Writing skills

Lawyer often underestimate the writing skills that are needed to be a successful lawyer. The reality is that lawyers spend a great deal of their time filing pleadings and other documents with the court. Almost all of these documents require some degree of writing expertise. You are much more likely to advance your client’s position if you can effectively write.

Critical thinking skill

In order to be a successful lawyer, you must be able to look at a legal issue from all sides in order to come up with the best solution. Proper analysis will not only help you to identify the legal issue, but help you to develop a sound legal argument to support your client’s position.

Legal professionals must learn to review and assimilate large volumes of complex information efficiently and effectively. Legal analytical and logical reasoning skills include:

  1. Reviewing complex written documents, drawing inferences, and making connections among legal authorities.
  2. Developing logical thinking, organization, and problem-solving abilities.
  3. Structuring and evaluating arguments.
  4. Using inductive and deductive reasoning to draw inferences and reach conclusions.


Mindfulness, according to Lori Ann Buza, is directing attention to the present without judgment or preconception; not focusing on what has happened in the past nor worrying about what will happen in the future, but feeling appreciation and gratitude for the present. This is not to suggest that one cannot learn from the past nor prepare for the future. Indeed, if attorneys are more mindful in practice, they will have a greater capacity to learn from the past and to better direct their futures. The ability to appreciate supposed failures and mistakes from the past, in the present, enables people to grow in a manner that avoids repeat negative occurrences. But one will only be able to do so if he or she is able to have an honest and healthy dialogue with oneself during self-reflection, which comes from mindfulness. Both reflection and meditation bring us the ability to see with more clarity, which includes understanding mistakes from the past while also driving a path to better outcomes.

Attention to detail

A sharp eye for accuracy, says Jemma Smith, is crucial to the success of your legal career. A single word out of place can change the meaning of a clause or contract, while wrongly spelt or ungrammatical emails, letters or documents can give clients a bad impression, costing your firm their business.

Learning technology

Technology is changing the legal landscape and is an integral part of every legal function. Technology demands attorneys to learn new and faster methods of communicating and working. At the same time, technology offers more opportunities to connect with people and access information and resources.

To remain effective in their jobs, legal professionals must:

  1. Master a variety of word processing, presentation, time and billing, and practice-related software applications.
  2. Master communications technology including e-mail, voice messaging systems, video conferencing, and related technology.
  3. Become familiar with electronic discovery, computerized litigation support, and document management software.
  4. Become proficient with legal research software and Internet research.


Legal professionals do not work in a vacuum. Even solo practitioners must rely on secretaries and support staff and team up with co-counsel, experts, and vendors to deliver legal services. Moreover, since the needs of the client may transcend the skills of one attorney, one paralegal, or one practice group, teamwork is essential to individual and organizational success.

Interpersonal skills

Lawyers should be able to persuade clients to follow their advice or convince the opposition to negotiate a resolution. This requires the ability to read people and figure out the best approach to take when making your points. When presenting a case, lawyers must be able to read how jurors react to statements and testimony, and they need to read witnesses well enough to know whether the individual’s testimony is honest and unbiased.

About the Author

author Sunil Sharma is an advocate; editor and compiler of legal commentaries, having authored more than 40 books.

American Bar Association
Gary S. Goodpaster – The Human Arts of Lawyering: Interviewing and Counseling

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