3. February 2020

Three must-have skills for lawyers

Lawyers’ legal expertise may only be conceived of as a “player’s licence” for them to be permitted to operate in the legal market at all. It does not constitute a guarantee that they will be able to survive, let alone play in the top league. Today, this increasingly requires crucial soft skills in order to succeed, and continue to do so, in the fiercely contested legal market. The relevant skills sets are knowledge, management and relationship. Lawyers who cultivate and develop these, too, create unique selling propositions (USPs) and clearly differentiate themselves from their competitors, thus becoming personæ who are not interchangeable and are sought after in the market.

First skill set: knowledge

A lawyer’s knowledge must reach above and beyond legal expertise, which is expected from them anyway. And to prevent any misunderstandings: this is not about specialising as a lawyer highly proficient in a particular field. This is about an extension of knowledge through a wider range of specialist and other expertise, for instance through additional familiarity with other areas such as tax, accounting, project management or with another country, or the command of a foreign language. Customers will also greatly appreciate it if a lawyer does not only possess a manifest knowledge of their industry, but also some specific knowledge of the specific customer. Thus before you meet a customer for the first time, gather information about their products and try to understand what their general conditions and competitive situation are.

Second skill set: management

To run a company (for instance a law firm, or also a legal department) successfully, a knowledge of modern management is indispensable. First of all, this is about positioning oneself appropriately and developing a corresponding strategy with a matching business model. This provides the basis on which the operations, including the necessary processes and systems, have to be implemented. A special focus should be placed on resource management, which covers human, financial and time resources. After all, this is about the management of a company.

Third skill set: relations

Finally, this is about the cultivation of relationships, which is often most likely to be associated with the notion of soft skills. This includes all the service-related qualities (like accessibility, response time and friendliness) and leadership (of staff, clients and oneself). Oral and written communication that is easily understood, transparent and geared to its addressees is also very important. In immediate contacts with other people, what also counts are presentation competencies – with body language not to be underestimated – and the skill to visualise solutions with the help of images (i.e. not only in text form, which is lawyers’ intuitive preference). Finally, what is often ascribed to lawyers as their core competence, namely their own negotiation competencies, must be further developed and practised continuously.

Only complete ownership of these three skill sets will ensure that lawyers, in their capacity as legal service providers, will also attract and consistently satisfy customers in the future and thus successfully differentiate them from their competitors.



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About the author
Prof. Dr. Bruno Mascello Academic Director of the Executive School of Management, Technology and Law at the University of St.Gallen, Director of the executive programme for lawyers “Management for the Legal Profession (MLP-HSG)”, attorney at law, lecturer and author dealing with various topics at the intersection of law and management.