Lawyering Skills

The complete guide to lawyering skills from core competencies to the essential skills to stay competitive in today’s legal market.

Building a solid legal business the right way is critical to your success as an attorney. While you navigate the path to business growth, remember your focus: providing legal advocacy and guidance to your clients through excellent lawyering skills. As an attorney, you should possess skills such as communication, trial advocacy, negotiation, problem-solving, legal writing, and alternative dispute resolution.

Without exceptional lawyering skills, you can’t have a successful business. It’s up to you to provide the skills that solve client issues, enhance your business, and further the legal industry. To do so, you must understand how to navigate opposing counsel, how to take a killer deposition, and how to best advocate on behalf of your clients. 

It’s time to learn innovative legal strategies, refresh the strategies you already use, and take your firm to the next level.

Fundamental Skills

As an attorney, there are many lawyering skills you must possess. Sure, you should know how to navigate the law, but there are other lawyering skills that law school simply can’t teach.

Soft Skills Attorneys Must Possess

There are two types of skills that attorneys must possess to be successful: soft skills and hard skills. Although it’s a requirement for attorneys to have fundamental skills such as legal analysis and negotiation, they must build these lawyering skills on a foundation of soft skills.

Soft skills—sometimes referred to as professional skills—are the non-technical skills attorneys need to serve their clients and the legal industry in a more meaningful way. Around 75% of long-term success depends on these soft skills while only 25% of success depends on technical lawyering skills.

Some examples of soft skills attorneys need to refine include:

  • Communication. To improve your communication skills, it’s important to practice active listening. You should also always make eye contact and stay present, whether it’s with a client or the opposition. 
  • Leadership. Especially important as a business owner, it’s critical to hone leadership skills. Start by delegating tasks and trusting your team to get them done. Give honest feedback often. Try your best to remain positive in all situations, keep your values top of mind, and build a culture of open communication within your practice.
  • Teamwork. Remember: you can’t do everything on your own. Organize your team processes, clearly define your goals, and set responsibilities. Always recognize good work and remember to encourage communication daily.
  • Problem-solving. As an attorney, you’ll spend many hours solving both business and legal problems. Start by acknowledging the situation in front of you and move towards finding a solution immediately. Look for the obvious solution first and remember to step back if you need to process.
  • Time management. There are many moving parts involved in running a law firm from meetings to court dates and beyond. Make a schedule daily, weekly, and monthly to keep you on track. Prioritize your tasks and block time to work on your business. Also, stop procrastinating and move forward.
  • Conflict resolution. In this field, conflict resolution is a critical skill. To improve it, recognize the conflict at hand and remain calm. Listen to the other party with a solution mindset. Remain positive and show a willingness to collaborate in order to solve the problem.

Interviewing & Communicating

Clients want attorneys who know how to communicate. They want a trusted advocate and counselor, someone to help them navigate the difficult realm of law. From the first client interview to every meeting through the end of the case, communication is key to a successful client-attorney relationship.

The Best Way to Conduct the Client Interview

The first meeting, typically the client interview, is critical to the success of the case. During this time, you’ll gather the pertinent information you’ll need to decide whether or not to move forward. To conduct a foolproof client interview, follow these steps:

  • Determine the client’s legal needs and goals. At the start of your client interview, you’ll need to discuss your client’s legal need. Ask the client why they reached out to you and determine their goals by asking what they expect from you.
  • Ask questions to analyze case potential. After the client expresses their need, continue to ask clarifying questions in order to analyze the case’s potential. Confirm key issues with the client so you’re on the same page.
  • Confirm next steps. During the interview, you’ll need to consider the client’s fit with your practice and your client will need to decide if you’re a fit for their specific needs. If there’s mutual agreement, you’ll need to sign a retainer agreement. If not, it’s time to move on.

At the end of the interview, you may choose to review extra documentation provided by the client or wish to take a certain amount of time before making a final decision. If this is the case, be sure to confirm expectations with your client.

Communication as an Attorney

Communication is one of the most important tools you have as an attorney. Ongoing communication protects you from ethics violations and malpractice claims. It also helps you deliver a top-notch client experience. Every time you communicate with a client, you must focus on building the relationship. Here are some of the best tips to make it happen:

  • Improve your listening skills. Don’t listen to respond. Instead, listen to your clients in order to understand. Allow your client to express their thoughts and concerns and then ask questions to gain clarity.
  • Be an educator. It’s up to you to break down difficult to understand legal jargon into something your clients can grasp. After all, their understanding is key to connection.
  • Remain open and honest. Don’t sugarcoat anything, whether it’s good or bad. Your clients rely on you to do what’s best.
  • Return the phone call. Your clients want consistent communication during this time. Make sure you return phone calls and emails.
  • Use a client portal. A client portal helps keep all communication secure. It’s easy to access for your clients. Plus, they store all communication in one place, reducing ethics violations and malpractice.

Trial Advocacy

During law school, you spend countless hours honing your lawyering skills by learning trial advocacy. Yet, these skills aren’t refined in law school. Instead, you’ll learn best by doing. Effective trial proceedings require you to grasp and use trial advocacy lawyering skills in your practice.

Grasping the Absolute Basics of Motion Practice

Motions are available at any point during any court proceeding, so it’s important to grasp the basics of this piece of trial advocacy. Whether you’re a new attorney or have years of experience under your belt, a continuous refresh of basic principles is critical to your practice.

Although legal motions differ between levels of court, some examples are relevant to all, including:

  • Motions to dismiss. These motions ask the court to dismiss a case, often resulting from invalid claims.
  • Summary judgments. This motion is a logical next step if all necessary facts are one-sided or settled and don’t require a trial.
  • Motions to compel. Motions to compel ask for action. For example, these motions commonly involve discovery, in which a party asks another party to produce information.

Some motions require a hearing and others don’t. A non-hearing motion’s decision will require written submissions to the court. During a hearing motion, in addition to written submissions, you must appear and argue the motion. After the motion, the court will rule and issue an order.

Motions can be simple or complex, depending on the lawsuit. They’re always available as aids to your case, giving you the option to obtain more information, dismiss, and more.

Discovery & E-Discovery

During the discovery phase, you’ll gather evidence critical to the case. After this exchange of information, both parties move toward trial or they negotiate, depending on the facts. The two most common types of discovery include written, such as interrogations and requests of documentation, and oral, which includes depositions.

Some of the evidence involved includes:

  • Information regarding witnesses. Discovery may include gathering witness details such as what they heard or saw.
  • Identity. For example, you might seek to identify an individual who might know more about the dispute at hand.
  • Documentation. This includes any documents related to the dispute, which vary case by case.

E-Discovery—or electronic discovery—involves collecting and producing information that’s stored electronically. For example, you might obtain emails, text messages, websites, and more depending on the case. For e-discovery to be as effective as possible, some attorneys choose to use e-discovery software to help review, produce, and use electronic data the right way.

There are, of course, limits to what information can be acquired during the discovery phase. For example, attorneys can’t disclose confidential conversations or information a client wouldn’t otherwise disclose such as religious beliefs.

Negotiation Strategies, Preparations, and Tactics

Negotiation is often more affordable for clients with better results. In fact, negotiation helps settle 70% of cases in one day. Negotiation describes the process between two parties that wish to reach a compromise or agreement that satisfies both. As an attorney, you’re responsible for understanding the facts, the interests of your party, and how to negotiate to resolve the issue at hand.

How to Prepare for Negotiation

Negotiation requires preparation to be effective. To best prepare for negotiation, follow these tips:

  • Define your goals. Start by defining what you and your client wish to achieve through the settlement and what’s realistic for the case. This includes examining what’s fair for your client based on the industry and the case itself.
  • Manage client expectations. As an attorney, it’s up to you to advise your client, even if it isn’t what they want to hear. Before you enter negotiation, be honest with your client and explain what they can expect from a settlement or compromise.
  • Harness the power of information. Go through discovery as if you were going through trial. Gather information about the opposing party such as their negotiation methods and goals. Throughout the process, ask questions. The more information you have, the easier it is to negotiate.
  • Know your authority. If you don’t have settlement authority, your client has to make the final decision to settle. Discuss with your client whether or not you have the power to accept or counter during the process.

Negotiation Strategies: Understanding Your Opponent & Sealing the Deal

After thorough preparation, it’s time to employ some tried-and-true negotiation strategies and tactics to help expedite the process, starting with understanding your opponent.

Understanding Your Opponent

Each attorney has a style they go back to over and over again during negotiation. The key to understanding this style is to do your homework. Check out their law firm bio and other sources to look for clues. For example, if they’ve been practicing for a long time, they have a more traditional negotiation style. If they don’t normally handle cases in your practice area, you have the upper hand.

As you continue to negotiate on behalf of your clients, you’ll gather more information about attorneys outside your practice. Pay attention to their nuances, the way they prefer to negotiate, and their negotiation style. The next time you go up against them, you’ll be able to use this information to your advantage.

Sealing the Deal

After a successful negotiation, it’s time to finalize the agreement. The most important thing you can do is to get the settlement in writing, regardless of any oral agreement. For example, you can send an email stating the terms of the agreement for confirmation.

If you have the option, draft the agreement yourself to work out the most favorable terms for your client. Once there are signatures, you’ll want to immediately notify the court of the settlement. 

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Litigation isn’t the only method for resolving disputes. In fact, other methods exist, known as alternative dispute resolutions or ADR. These alternative processes provide resolution for all types of disputes, ranging from family to business. 

Nowadays, there’s a wide range of ADR options such as facilitation and cooperative practice. Yet, the two most common types of ADR processes include mediation and arbitration.

Mediation

Meditation is a private process that involves the opposing parties and a mediator who discuss and resolve a dispute outside of court. As an attorney, you have the opportunity to be the neutral third party during the negotiation process.

Arbitration

Another private process, arbitration involves opposing parties who agree that one or several individuals can decide the outcome of a dispute after viewing the evidence and arguments. During arbitration, the neutral third party has the authority to decide to resolve the dispute.

The Benefits of ADR Methods

Alternative dispute resolution methods can greatly benefit both you and your client, even if litigation is already underway. Some of the key benefits of ADR methods include:

  • Cost. ADR offers cost-effective solutions by reducing appeals, discovery, and more. This results in a lower cost for your client and less time spent on streamlined cases for you.
  • Efficiency. Court cases take approximately 12-16 months longer to get to trial than cases using arbitration.
  • Privacy. While litigated cases are open to the public, arbitrations are private matters with only designated parties in attendance.
  • Access to justice. Those who can’t afford the cost of litigation will still have access to dispute resolution through ADR methods.

Facts & Problem-Solving

Lawyers experience many issues in their daily practice, from business problems to meeting new clients, each with their own unique legal concerns. Problem-solving involves finding creative solutions for difficult or complex issues. As an attorney, it’s best to start with what you know.

Start With the Facts

Clients won’t enter your office with a thoroughly investigated legal issue in hand. Instead, they’ll walk in with a concern and it’s up to you to identify the legality of it. To do this effectively, you must discover the facts or the things that are proved to be true.

When backed by evidence, the facts create successful cases. You must gather facts by entering into discovery, working to locate documentation, witnesses, and more that are key to the case. Once you have a grasp on the facts, it’s time to problem-solve.

  • Consider the client’s goals. Most clients understand they need help but they’re not sure what kind of help they need. After examining the facts, what your client hopes to achieve, and what’s in their best interest, you’ll decide how to move forward.
  • Identify legal opportunities. Through legal research, you’ll identify the legal opportunities for and legal oppositions against your client’s case.
  • Move forward. After considering everything there is to consider, you’ll need to decide what’s best for your client and move forward. This includes what’s best for their finances, their morals, their emotional state, and beyond.

Writing & Research

Being an attorney requires more than litigation and negotiation. To provide sound legal advice and deliver that advice to your clients, you must understand how to perform research and how to write.

Legal Research Tips

The purpose of legal research is to identify information to support your decision-making during the legal process. Unfortunately, the internet realm is vast and requires skill to navigate quickly. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your legal research time:

  • Define the legal issues first. You can’t find the information you need without understanding the legal issues first. Gather information such as where the event took place, objects involved, events involved, opposing arguments, and the solution your client expects.
  • Start with the secondary legal source. You can start a search with Google, yet a secondary source will help you find what you’re looking for faster. Try searching sources such as a legal treatise or online research tool first.
  • Use your functions. Your computer offers many unique functions and tools to help you with your research. For example, use Ctrl+F (or Cmd+F for Macs) to search within a web page. Or, find all the files on a website by searching for the website plus file type.

How to Improve Your Legal Writing Lawyering Skills

Attorneys must grasp legal writing in order to deliver facts and arguments in legal memos and briefs. To improve your legal writing lawyering skills, follow these tips:

  • Write for your audience. The brief you submit to the court will have a different tone than the memo to a client will. Make sure you understand the audience before you sit down to write.
  • Keep it simple. Words such as “herewith” don’t have a place in legal writing any longer. Replace the industry jargon with what’s simple, clear, and easy to glean information from.
  • Avoid passive voice. In legal writing, passive voice can muddy the waters of responsibility. Instead of saying “the ruling was made by the judge” say “the judge ruled”.
  • Start with what’s important. Start by stating your conclusion, or what your reader should gather from the piece. Then, focus the rest of the piece on the information required to supplement the conclusion.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Always read through what you’ve written more than once. Try using a tool that will read your words back to you to easily find errors. Use online grammar tools to help you find punctuation mistakes and more.

Ethics

For your protection as well as the protection of your clients and the court, there are ethical standards you must maintain, regardless of which area of law you practice in. Besides the importance of simply being a trustworthy and upstanding attorney, you could be subjected to disbarment or other penalties for violating ethical rules.

Duty of Loyalty

Attorneys must remain loyal to their clients and their best interests. This means that attorneys must act for the benefit of their client, abstaining from any decision that could place the client at a disadvantage. Attorneys should never act in a manner that benefits themselves personally at the expense of a client.

Attorney-Client Confidentiality

As an attorney, you’re responsible for keeping any information obtained during your representation confidential. This applies to all individuals within your firm including other attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants, and more.

In addition, according to “attorney-client privilege, you can’t use any information you gather from a client against them should a civil or criminal proceeding occur.

 Client Fee Structures

Although attorneys often work out a fee arrangement with each client, there are ethics that exist to protect clients from inflated fee structures. All fees must be reasonable for your practice. For example, a large corporate firm might have fees that are double those of a small firm. Yet, the corporate firm serves a different type of client than the other. When creating your fee structure, you must keep these ethical standards in mind.

You won’t learn everything you need to know to be a successful attorney during law school. You must get out there, dive in headfirst, and get soaked from head to toe in law. It’s important to refresh often to stay sharp and continue learning new lawyering skills to stay competitive.

Take Your Lawyering Skills to the Next Level

From building on traditional principles to carving out new ideas for the future of law, you’re now a critical part of the legal industry. To learn from other attorneys with years of experience and to take your lawyering skills to the next level, become a Lawyerist Insider today.

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