All law students hope to have a glittering career ahead of them; they want to be successful in court, sought out by clients and admired by their colleagues, as they progress through the hierarchy of the law firm to the dazzlingly peaks at the very top. However, all this power and accolades must be earned, starting at the very beginning of legal training. From the moment a law student first sets foot in a law class, he or she must develop or enhance the five following skills; they are vital for survival in training and in those first, bottom-level jobs which can make or break a young lawyer.
With a workload that can easily clock up 60 hour weeks, it is vital for law students to learn how to organise their files, whether paper or electronic, in such a fashion that they can put their hand on the necessary document within seconds when required. Law students and paralegals are expected to work as a team, and it is essential that each member of the team can easily access and find paperwork in a colleague’s filing system. Multi-tasking, too, is often required, and good levels of internal organisation are needed in order to keep the separate tasks straight.
As technology advances the legal profession must stay on the ball and up to date. Law firms, when hiring, will look at what extra skills a candidate will bring to the firm; they already expect excellent results in the classroom and from exams. Cloud computing is revolutionising the way people and companies work; it is believed that the traditional office is on the decline. More and more people are working from home, using VPN technology, using their own smartphone devices and even using social media and networking for recruitment, marketing and business purposes. The legal profession must be aware of this, and the implications that such an infrastructure could have on a particular case. Students who are well versed in modern developments and the rules and regulations that are being applied to processes, often retrospectively, will stand a good chance of using this knowledge to good purpose.
Law students must be able to read fast and well, lifting out the relevant pieces of information from documents and transcripts. Persistence and tenacity too, are necessary traits, especially when investigating cases where witnesses and passers-by are reluctant to give information, or may even be actively trying to hide or obscure the facts. Law students are expected to be able to go through, assimilate and pick out important information from immense files, filled with witness statements, police and incident reports, contracts, legal documents, deeds and any number of pieces of information and data necessary in finding the full background of a case. Without keenly honed research skills, they are likely to struggle and the case may suffer as a result.
Attention to detail
As with research skills, attention to detail is essential. A legal document can be nullified and rejected by a judge if the opposing lawyer can prove that it has errors on it; if there is one, there may be many, will be the claim, and the judge will feel obliged to agree. Any work must be correct, double-checked and verified. Never assume that a piece of information is correct; if your name is going to be used on a form, take steps to satisfy yourself it is correct. Facts, figures, names and addresses: all of these should be spelled correctly and verified as being up to date.
A lawyer relies on communication to make his or her case. A law student who cannot clearly correspond with colleagues, customers or managers is not sending a good image of a future winner for the firm. If spoken skills are poor, or just not quite good enough, join a debating society which will teach you how to argue both sides of a case equally – if you can second-guess your opponent’s strategy, you can take steps to undermine his or her arguments. Give speeches at every possible occasion, paying close attention to the reactions of the audience: what offends them, what bores them, and what amuses or entertains them? In this way, you can learn to control the audience and lead them along your line of thinking, so that they will reach the conclusion you desire without needing to spell it out for them.
These five skills form the basis of a successful career in law. All law students should strive to have these five skills under control, in order to grow and be a superstar of the legal profession.
Justin Henson is a freelance writer for Lawteacher.net – helping students with their law essays since 2003.