5 DISTINCTIVE SKILLS LAWYERS SHOULD ACQUIRE
As lawyers (budding and practicing), certain skills are expected to feature habitually in our day-to-day affairs with clients for optimum efficiency in the legal industry, notwithstanding our area of specialization.
These set-skills is what I generally refer to as “common” skills for all lawyers who have made, and would want to make the most out the profession and other related enterprise. Consequently, in light of the reality in today’s competitive legal sector, it would be considered prudent and beneficial for lawyers to hone these skills for maximum input in the legal practice.
The Black’s Law Dictionary (10th Ed.), in expounding on the definition of a skill posits it to be:
“Special ability and proficiency; esp., the practical and familiar knowledge of the principles and processes of an art, science, or trade, combined with the ability to apply them appropriately, with readiness and dexterity. Skill is generally considered more than mere competence. It is a special competence that is not a part of the reasonable person’s ordinary equipment, but that results from aptitude cultivated through special training and experience.”
In the same vein, Jordan Furlong (a leading global market analyst), defined it to mean:
“A ready proficiency or applied ability acquired and developed through training and experience.”
In light of the above definitions, it thus suffices to conclude that a skill is an ability that is acquired, practiced and mastered overtime. So, it is not something that one gets in a thunderbolt flash or cursorily; it is rather a mastered art!
With the following in mind, I shall now delve into the distinctive skills lawyers should acquire and possess.
1. Communication Skill
There is no gainsaying the fact that communication is an integral part of interpersonal human relations in all spectrum of existence. To pass information comprehensively from one person to another, there is an attendant need to communicate. Communication, simply defined, refers to the act of sending and receiving information in a comprehensive way from one person or place to another. Majorly, communication skill may broadly be categorized into oral/vocal/spoken communication skill and written skill.
Consequently, lawyers should endeavor to cultivate and master these two broad skills as they go a long in determining their efficiency in the legal practice, particularly. On the one hand, oral skill would be crucial as it relates to addressing judges in the courts or presentation of arguments, discussing with clients in an advisory capacity or otherwise, effecting negotiations or disputes resolution, discussing with counsels and colleagues, etc. This skill can be cultivated by engaging in debate, moot and mock and public presentation activities. Similarly, you can watch videos or presentations of renowned public speakers of historical or contemporary times and practice as often as possible.
On the other hand, writing skill would be needful as lawyers would invariably have to regularly engage in legal writing which includes: drafting briefs, arguments, motions, agreements, negotiations and other legal documents. This skill can be polished through engaging in various writing activities. So, be involved in essay writing, memorial writing for moot competitions, book reviews or summary, blogs writing, or opt to be a content writer for any platform that promotes writing, etc.
Lord Denning, in his classic book “The Discipline of Law” aptly stated that:
“To succeed in the profession of law, you must seek to cultivate a command of language. Words are the lawyer’s tools of trade. On the words you use, you clients future may depend. The reason why words are so important is because words are the vehicle of thoughts.”
So, either in developing your oral or writing dexterity, you need to understand that words are vital as posited by Lord Denning in the above excerpt. Hence, you should give maximum priority to reading to enrich your “word-bank” for efficient communication prowess.
2. Analytical or Critical thinking skill
According to Wikipedia,
“Analytical skill is the ability to visualize, articulate, conceptualize or solve both complex and uncomplicated problems by making decisions that are sensible given the available information. Such skills include demonstration of the ability to apply logical thinking to breaking complex problems into their component parts.”
Furthermore, Richard J. Heuer Jr. explained that:
“Thinking analytically is a skill like carpentry or driving a car. It can be taught, it can be learned, and it can improve with practice. But like many other skills, such as riding a bike, it is not learned by sitting in a classroom and being told how to do it. Analysts learn by doing.”
In essence, it is the ability to solve (complex and knotty) problems or issues by applying reasoning, critical evaluation and comprehensive deliberation in a bid to churn out viable solutions to such problems. Analytical skill is vital to problem-solving and will be a necessity for lawyers in any area of practice.
3. Interpersonal Skill
Without good interpersonal relationship, you might not deal well with teamwork; you might not rapport smoothly with clients and your interaction with colleagues might be strained. It has been said that people with strong interpersonal skills are often more successful in both their professional and personal lives.
Shyness, timidity or introversion would do more harm than good in determining your peak performance in the legal market. Your daily connections with clients, work partners and other individual would demand an exceptional social and human relations to gain the most from them. You cannot succeed in the legal profession in isolation, or being a loner! Little wonder, this skill is often referred to as “people” skill because of the underlying fact that it encompasses your interaction with people of diverse features. Thus, you must build very quality interpersonal skill by working wholeheartedly and humbly when given the chance to participate in a teamwork, being genuinely engaged with people (socially, professionally, religiously, politically, and otherwise); tolerant, empathetic, diplomatic, respectful, sensitive, etc.
4. Research Skill
Though this skill may sound as a cliché or common knowledge to some, legal research skill however is of paramount importance in legal practice, and its intrinsic worth for lawyers cannot be trivialized.
According to Godwin Coliboa,
“In the broadest sense of the word, the definition of research includes any gathering of data, information and facts for the advancement of knowledge.”
Similarly, it can simply mean finding out information about a topic. It is carried out to acquire adequate and relevant knowledge about any matter of interest. Research has been and will continue to be an integral part of legal education cum practice. Research skill can be used to discover or uncover better ways of working; improve the standard of business operations and find new opportunities for development.
You research to keep yourself and enterprise up-to-date with current knowledge and development in the field of law. This would richly enhance your advisory services to clients and also promote better understanding of current development. It entails reading books, articles, journals, surfing the internet, watching videos, conducting and listening interviews, etc.
5. Technological Skill
This skill is said to be the skill learners develop as a result of the use of the computer and technologies.
The tide of technological innovations has swept through various areas of work, which has led to swift and profound changes in traditional system of operations. The legal environment, no doubt, has been affected by this tide.
Hence, in other for lawyers not to be left behind and for them to maintain their competitiveness and relevance in the legal venture, they must be acclimatized to these technological facilities and services in a bid to reflect contemporary realities and meet clients’ needs. Lawyers should get acquainted with the technological savvy, at least the basis, in operating fully these facilities and programmes.
On this note, Furlong brilliantly quipped that “If a lawyer cannot effectively and efficiently use email, the internet, and mobile telephony, he/she might as well just stay home. And if you’re not ready to learn about this things, clients and colleagues will pass you by.” It might be the skill in operating word processor, email management, electronic presentations, World Wide Web and data base operation, cloud system management and other relevant technological programmes.
In light of the following expositions, it is imperative to point out that the above listed skills are not exhaustive, considering the broad range of skills lawyers are encouraged to acquire. It is however, a highlight on some basic and needful skills that cut across great lawyering competence. Thus, lawyers should ensure that they dedicate and discipline themselves totally to the acquisition and mastery of these skills, as they could be incidental to or consequential upon their optimum performance in the legal field. Skills don’t come in handy; they must be worked hard on. Begin now!
Content Provider, Legal Pages.
Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University.