January 23, 2023
Do you have what it takes to be a lawyer? While having a solid understanding of legal principles is certainly important, it is not the only factor that will determine your success as a lawyer. Aspiring lawyers must also develop a range of legal skills to stand out in a competitive job market. In this article, we discuss the abilities and interests of a lawyer, including commercial awareness, critical thinking and problem-solving, communication and teamwork. By honing these legal skills early on, you will position yourself for success in the legal profession. 

1. Teamwork

By no means exclusive to law, the ability to work in a team is essential to any job. As a lawyer, you will be part of a larger team in some way or another, no matter your specialisation. Empathy, active listening as well as research and analysis skills are required in order to make valuable contributions.

If people enjoy working with you, they will want to do so again and recommend you to others. Remember that networking is a huge element of the field of law, and that often the people you will be working with in a team can become your strongest advocates!

How to develop this skill

Extra-curriculars such as sports, debating and public speaking societies can help you develop this skill while still pursuing your education in school or university. 

Look out for law firm ambassadorships and student representative opportunities – this way, you will get to know people in the field before even completing your degree!

Find out more about The Lawyer Portal’s Student Ambassador Programme with Milbank.

The University of Leeds also offers a 2-week online course on Communication & Interpersonal skills. This course can help you to develop your communication skills within a working environment. 

2. Initiative and Independence

The more you advance in your career, the more you will be required to take decisive action. Being a team-player is important, but the way you stand out within your team is crucial when it comes to your individual success. The more you progress in your career, the more responsibility you will have. Proposing your own solutions to problems, taking the lead on a presentation or even creating a new project all demonstrate to your team your value as an individual. 

How to develop this skill

When it comes to individual work and taking initiative, these are lawyer skills that you will have already developed in your formative years, from your GCSEs to your university exams. But how do you highlight them in a recruitment situation?

Think about a time when you had to propose your own research topic – for your dissertation, for example – or perhaps of a situation when you had to fix a problem on your own in a team project.

Check out this article on why taking initiative is so important.

3. Creative Problem-Solving

The law is abounding with different options, avenues and arguments for the same problem, and one of the most important abilities of a lawyer is being able to decide what would most benefit your client. Everything, from your individual take on a topic to the trajectory and steps you decide to take when working on a case is influenced by your – and your team’s – desired outcome.

Therefore, you need to be able to take the road less travelled at times – you might even need to pave a new road altogether. Having the opportunity to create tailored solutions to problems is part of the beauty of being a lawyer, but it does require practice.

How to develop this skill

Creative problem solving is different from an ability to fix things. The latter is something you inevitably develop in your schooling years. The other element of creativity, however, needs to be trained. 

One way to develop this skill is to actively put yourself in situations where it is needed. Legal work experience is one example, but other options such as teaching English as a second language during your university years might be more readily available. This kind of work experience would require you to create your own teaching material and present it, and moreover to initiate and maintain the progress of your students.

If you’re keen to develop your problem solving skills even further, you might also want to explore problem-solving and decision-making from a theoretical perspective. Here are a couple of useful resources: 

To develop your lawyer skills further, check out the University of California Irvine’s online course on Effective Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

You may also want to have a look at Oxford University Press’ Guide for Lawyers and Policymakers, Problem Solving, Decision Making and Professional Judgment by Paul Brest and Linda Hamilton Krieger 

4. Written Communication 

Written communication goes beyond correct grammar and a sophisticated vocabulary. Being able to effectively get your ideas across in a variety of writing styles and registers is essential for success in the legal field. Drafting a contract is very different from writing a letter to a client, which in turn is very different from emailing your co-workers.

Developing an awareness of different writing styles and document requirements can help to expand upon your own work. Take note of the register and vocabulary used in specialist legal magazines and try reproducing them for a university blog or newspaper. Taking free writing courses through your university is also a great way to develop this skill.

How to develop this skill

Developing an awareness of different writing styles and document requirements can help to expand upon your own work. 

Take note of the register and vocabulary used in specialist legal magazines and try reproducing them for a university blog or newspaper. Usually, you can also take writing courses for free through your university.

Check out our guide to writing like a lawyer.

The Law Society also has an excellent article on the 10 Rules of Written Communication For Business

Check out LexisNexis’ Webinar on Improving Your Written and Oral Communication

5. Verbal Communication Skills

Verbal communication is key in any professional setting, especially in the legal field. Who you are communicating your ideas to, as well as the various situations and environments you might find yourself in, will alter the way you communicate. Communication is always supplemented with a goal, whether it is to simply get your point across to your co-worker, or convince a jury. When it comes to lawyers, having a rock-solid grasp on spoken word is essential.

How to develop this skill

Public speaking is something a lot of people struggle with. Humans are social creatures, so communication comes naturally to us. With a bit of practice in the right places, verbal communication is something any of us can master!

Developing this skill can be done through extra-curricular activities like debating or public speaking societies. Joining a drama society, or doing outreach work for charities or your university can also help you to hone your verbal communication skills.

If you’re serious about enhancing your communication skills even further, check out these highly recommended resources: 

6. Working Well Under Pressure 

As a lawyer, you will be required to overcome obstacles and think on the spot on the daily. Therefore, being high-functioning whilst under internal or external pressure is essential for lawyers. Whether you are working overnight to meet a deadline or talking to a difficult client, working in a people-focused career will undoubtedly bring pressure along.

The pressures you might need to overcome are not strictly tied to deadlines. If you become a barrister, you will be arguing against a party who is constantly trying to disprove your points, and even intimidate you. Keeping your composure and carrying on in spite of this is no easy feat – and this kind of confidence comes with practice.

How to develop this skill

When it comes to deadlines and time-keeping, you might need some trial and error. This is perfectly normal, but you need to assess your shortcomings if you ever miss a deadline and improve your performance the next time around. 

Organisation is a skill that you can develop during your formative years – just make sure you prioritise it!

Take advantage of programmes at your university, such as Ulaw’s study skills sessions, which help students develop critical lawyer skills and techniques to improve their academic performance.

Check out our guide on innovative study techniques from a first-class law student


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7. Develop Your Commercial Awareness

The most important interests of a lawyer should include current affairs, business and politics. Aspiring lawyers need to develop their commercial awareness in order to stay up-to-date with these topics to be able to understand and analyse their impact and discuss them with clients.

By developing your commercial awareness, you will be able to stay abreast of changes in the legal sector and demonstrate to employers and clients that you have the necessary knowledge and law skills. This will help you stand out in the competitive job market and position yourself for success in the legal profession.

How to develop this skill

Here are a few of our top commercial awareness tips:

  • Keep up with news and events related to the legal industry. Follow channels like The Lawyer Portal on social media and sign up to their weekly commercial awareness newsletter to get regular updates.
  • Research the latest developments in the legal sector and stay informed of any changes in the law.
  • Read legal journals and trade magazines to stay ahead of the curve.
  • Attend events and conferences related to the legal profession to broaden your knowledge and gain insight into the industry. ULaw holds a number of events from mock trials to virtual lectures to help you stay on top of the current trends in the world of law. 
  • Network with other lawyers and legal professionals to share knowledge and insights.

You may also want to check out our guide to improving your commercial awareness.

Beyond your ability to stay on top of the latest legal developments, you’ll also need to be able to develop your critical analysis skills.

Check out our guide on how to develop your critical thinking skills to boost your commercial awareness.

8. Build Your Empathy Skills

Empathy is a skill that you will develop naturally as you mature. Being an empathetic, active listener is essential in forming a trusting relationship with your clients. Signing up for customer-facing work experience and people-focused roles can give you an insight into the kind of skills you’ll need as a lawyer. 

How to develop this skill

Look for customer-facing work experience and people-focused roles to get an idea of the work you might be doing as you advance in your career. 

Check out this article on the importance of empathising with your clients.

9. Attention to Detail

Attention to detail is an essential skill for any aspiring lawyer. In order to be successful in the field, you must be able to read and interpret complex legal documents, accurately recall facts and information, and spot inconsistencies between documents. Attention to detail is also important when it comes to researching and interpreting laws, as well as understanding case law and precedents.

This skill is particularly important when it comes to assessing documents and sources. An ability to spot key pieces of information is highly important, whether you are looking for evidence to support your case or proofreading a contract where missing a detail could derail the whole task. 

How to develop this skill

Developing your attention to detail requires practice, so try to spend time reading legal documents and looking for inconsistencies between them.

Reading legal documents can also help you to improve your legal vocabulary and understand the nuances of legal language.

Additionally, try to practice close reading techniques to identify important facts, arguments, and rulings in legal documents.

10. Sharpen Your Research Skills

Research is an important skill for any lawyer, as it allows you to find up-to-date information about legal topics and cases. As a lawyer, you must be able to find and analyze relevant statutes, case law, regulations, and other legal documents. You must be able to identify relevant information and consider how it might apply to a specific case or situation.

This skill provides you with a solid basis for preparing cases in your future career as a lawyer, as well as for creating documents around a topic or issue – something you might get asked to do during your traineeship.

How to develop this skill

Developing your legal research skills requires practice. Try to spend some time researching legal topics and reading up on relevant cases. This will help you to become more familiar with the legal process and the types of information that are available. Additionally, take advantage of online research databases and search tools, such as LexisNexis, to help you quickly find relevant documents. 

Additionally, attend legal research workshops at your school or local library to learn more about legal research techniques. Finally, try to build connections with librarians and other legal professionals who can provide guidance and support with your research.

Check out our  guide on Top Legal Research Techniques and Resources for Law Students

There are also a number of short courses available to help you develop these skills, such as Udemy’s Legal Research Skills Course.

Edward Elgar’s book on Advanced Introduction to Legal Research Methods, also offers an in-depth introduction into legal research methods for law students.

11. Leadership Skills 

Leadership is a crucial skill for lawyers, especially as they advance in their careers. Whether you find yourself leading a team of junior associates, guiding clients through complex legal matters, or representing your firm in various professional settings, strong leadership skills are indispensable. 

Developing the ability to inspire and motivate others, make sound decisions, and take responsibility for outcomes will set you apart as a respected member of your team. 

How to develop this skill

Seek opportunities to take on leadership roles in student organisations, community projects, or law-related activities. 

Participate in leadership development programs offered by your school or legal associations. 

Consider mentoring or coaching experiences to enhance your ability to guide and support others.

For a more in-depth look, check out Leading In Law: Leadership Development for Law Students by Donald Polden and Barry Posner


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12. Advocacy

Advocacy is at the core of a lawyer’s role, involving the ability to present compelling arguments, persuade decision-makers, and effectively represent clients’ interests. Whether you are in a courtroom arguing a case or negotiating a settlement, honing your advocacy skills is crucial for success in the legal field. This skill extends beyond verbal persuasion to encompass written advocacy, where crafting persuasive legal documents is equally important.

How to develop this skill

Join moot court or mock trial competitions to gain practical experience in oral advocacy, such as The Lawyer Portal’s mock trials organised regularly throughout the year

Take writing courses focused on persuasive communication, such as MIT’s Professional Education online course on Persuasive Communication.

Seek internships or clerkships that allow you to engage in real-world advocacy scenarios. 

Attend workshops or seminars led by experienced advocates to learn advanced techniques and strategies.

13. Business Development Skills 

For lawyers in private practice or those aiming to build their client base, business development skills are essential. Being able to attract and retain clients, understand their needs, and provide effective legal solutions contribute to a successful legal career. Building a professional network, cultivating relationships with potential clients, and showcasing your legal expertise in a business context are key aspects of business development.

How to develop this skill

Attend networking events, conferences, and industry gatherings to expand your professional network. 

Take courses or workshops on business development strategies for lawyers.

Consider joining professional organisations or legal business groups to connect with potential clients and mentors. 

14. Adaptability 

The legal landscape is dynamic and subject to constant changes, making adaptability a vital skill for lawyers. Embracing new technologies, staying informed about industry trends, and adjusting strategies in response to evolving circumstances are all part of the adaptability required in the legal profession.

How to develop this skill

Stay informed about legal developments and industry trends through continuous learning and professional development. 

Embrace opportunities to work on diverse cases or projects that expose you to various legal challenges. 

Seek feedback from mentors and colleagues to identify areas for improvement and growth. 

15. Persuasion

Persuasion is a powerful skill for lawyers, as it involves influencing others to accept or support your position. Developing the ability to build compelling arguments and address opposing viewpoints is essential for success in the legal field.

How to develop this skill

Engage in activities that require persuasive communication, such as participating in debate clubs or public speaking events. 

Take courses on negotiation and persuasive communication techniques. 

Practice presenting and defending your legal arguments in moot court or mock trial settings.

Read up on persuasive techniques for lawyers and try out these skills in different settings.

16. Ethics and Professionalism 

Maintaining the highest standards of ethics and professionalism is non-negotiable for lawyers. Upholding the legal profession’s integrity, acting with honesty and transparency, and treating clients, colleagues, and the court with respect are fundamental aspects of ethical conduct. 

How to develop this skill

Familiarise yourself with the legal profession’s ethical guidelines and codes of conduct. 

Attend ethics workshops or seminars to deepen your understanding of ethical considerations in legal practice. 

Actively engage in pro bono work or community service to reinforce your commitment to ethical legal practice. Check out TLP’s guide to pro bono work experience for more information. 


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