The legal field is very competitive, full of passionate individuals who want to make it. Finding work or getting promoted in a top law office can be a hassle, and you need to guarantee you stand out.
While knowledge and understanding of the law is critical for a legal support professional, showing off your soft skills is a way to really shine. It is common for firms to hire someone less experienced, yet hungry and willing to grow.
The job is fast-paced, typically has tight deadlines and involves some strong personalities. How can you leverage your strengths in a high-pressure environment like this? By demonstrating your qualifications!
What are soft skills?
Also known as “transferable” skills, soft skills show who a person is and what they can do well rather than what they know.
These are character traits that, in combination with experience, shape one’s career. Soft skills are also called transferrable since they can be used at any job. They’re still helpful even when changing careers.
In the law industry, the search for a paralegal or legal secretary will likely have similar requirements.
Specific experience, higher education or certifications (i.e. NALA or NFPA for paralegals), and hard skills are necessary. However, your soft skills will set you apart from others who just meet those minimum requirements.
Types of soft skills
While some people have natural aptitudes for things like people skills and organization, all soft skills can be learned and practiced. Even if you have natural talent, it’s still a good idea to work on those skills to reach your potential.
Here are some of the most important legal soft skills to focus on.
#1: Verbal communication
Communication is key in most professions, and it is especially crucial in the legal world. Legal support professionals perform better when they know how to communicate.
The skill of communication has some nuance. There’s a big difference between one-on-one communication and the ability to get your point across and understand feedback from a crowd.
While speaking in public can be frightening to some, public speaking skills are like a superpower for your legal career. Think about how much of an advantage you’ll have when you can confidently and clearly address groups of attorneys, clients, or coworkers.
“Translating” from the language of law into terms that can be easily understood by non-legal parties is another skill that can take you far up in your career. Clients are often intimidated by legalese, and you’ll be a hero if you can explain those complex ideas in simple terms.
Working with strong personalities, whether it’s the opponent’s team or your own, is a fantastic opportunity to showcase your verbal communication skills, too.
#2: Writing skills
From everyday emails to professional documents, you will most likely have a lot of writing to do on a daily basis.
Your written communication is the only way some of your professional contacts can get to know you. Especially in a world of virtual law firms and remote courts, written messaging is one of the primary ways you connect.
If you can write clearly and cleanly, you’ll look more professional and intelligent.
Clean grammar, a strong vocabulary, and the ability to put abstract thoughts into words will help you stand out and succeed. Understanding legal terminology, of course, is a must. If you’re not confident that you understand the definition and connotations of a word, either use a different phrase or look it up.
One of the best ways to improve your writing ability is to read a lot. Subscribe to legal publications (like this blog) and set aside a little bit of time each day to read.
#3: Organization and attention to detail
Organizational skills are a legal support superpower. You juggle a lot of different tasks and priorities, so the ability to stay organized means less wasted time and better work results.
Good organization keeps you from missing important deadlines. It also allows you to be more attentive when working with confidential documents.
Attention to detail is valuable for a lot of the same reasons. In legal support, you’re expected to be meticulous and thorough. Little mistakes like missing dates, incorrectly spelled names, or typos in case numbers can cause big problems.
When you get more organized, you free up your mental resources so that it’s easier to pay attention to details. Think of it this way — when you stop wasting energy trying to manage the big picture, you have more energy to handle all the little pieces.
The key to being more organized is to use systems. You never have to look for your car keys if you always leave them in the same place, and you never forget an efiling step if you always use the same checklist. Over time, you’ll find it easier to create your own processes each time you tackle a new task.
#4: Time management
Managing time is a bit of a misnomer. You can’t change the amount of time you have in a work day, but you can manage your priorities so that the right things get done within the time you have.
When you have great time management skills, you understand how much you can realistically get done in a day and you work on the most important things first.
Distractions — even work-related interruptions — can derail all of your time management efforts. New to-do items get added to your plate all day long, and if you switch gears every time something pops up, you’ll end the day with an even longer task list than you started with.
On the other hand, if you manage priorities well and stay focused on your top tasks, you’ll be at the top of your legal support game.
As a legal professional, you’ll probably always have more work than you have time to finish. Develop your time management skills so that you always have an advantage over other candidates who struggle to get things done.
#5: Research skills
While this may qualify as a hard skill in some legal support positions, it’s still worth mentioning as a soft skill, too.
In the age of search engines, the ability to find information and evaluate sources is more important than ever.
That discernment is even more important than the ability to find information in the first place. With the abundance of data on the internet, the challenge today is determining the quality of the information you find.
A legal support team member that knows how to work with information is an incredible asset for any firm. Someone who can operate Google, documents, books, and other sources for needed information is a gem. Someone who knows how to filter information, that is.
#6: Ability to work in a team
Law professionals are rarely the type to work alone — there’s nearly always a team involved. Knowing how to connect with others will only strengthen that team.
Explaining something complex to a colleague or listening to a long-winded diatribe from your boss requires lots of patience, especially when you’re feeling the pressure of looming deadlines. Collaboration is still key, and a wise legal support professional can be the glue that holds the firm together.
Part of working on a team is knowing when to ask for or offer help.
If you’ve got way too much on your plate, let your teammates know. It’s far better to admit that you’re falling behind instead of letting the work pile up and forcing people to wait on you.
At the same time, keep an eye out for your teammates. They’re going to need extra support sometimes, and that’s your chance to make a difference.
#7: Technical Skills
Never underestimate how important being familiar with technology is these days.
The more law firms start to adopt legal technology, the more there is to learn. But the more we learn, the better our work becomes.
Creating presentations, helping with legal software, and running video conferences — these are just some of the day-to-day things you might come across as a legal support professional. You should know how to do all of them.
More importantly, though, the most valuable technological skill you can have is the willingness and flexibility to learn how to use new tools.
There will always be a new system, a new process, or a new regulation. By being open to innovation, you’ll always be at the top of your game and at the top of the list for promotions or new positions.
#8: Interpersonal Skills
To sum up, it’s beneficial to know how to deal with people while doing everything mentioned above.
In the legal industry, you may come across stressed out people, people going through personal issues, and an array of difficult clients, attorneys, judges, and vendors. Your goal is to be ready to handle anything coming your way in a calm, understanding manner.
Being empathetic not only boosts your career, but also helps you grow as a person.
Interpersonal skills (AKA people skills) are often the first that come to mind when you bring up soft skills. There’s a good reason for that. Your people skills are at the core of your ability to get things done at work and in life.
There are a lot of individual skills that go into your interpersonal toolkit. Things like patience, tact, empathy, and even your sense of humor all contribute to your skill with people.
When you’re ready to work on your people skills, turn to someone you know well and trust completely. Ask them what you need to work on the most, and be sure that you’re open to honest feedback. This is one area where the truth can sting a little bit.
Speaking of working on your skills, let’s finish up with some strategies to upskill all of your soft skills.
How you can improve your soft skills
In any profession, both soft and hard skills are extremely important. We spend most of our time at work, and we want to surround ourselves with people who match our energy.
That said, you should seek to constantly improve in a healthy way. Be intentional, but don’t let your pursuit of a new skill get in the way of your regular work. Find ways to practice and learn on the job, and look for learning opportunities that fit in with your schedule.
If you’re in a position to help your firm set policies, try to create a work environment that encourages this type of growth.
Legal support professionals are often offered training when starting their job. Even if they have completed paralegal studies, each firm is unique and has its own ways of doing things, and training is always necessary. Consider offering additional training on skills like research and communication.
Be prepared to grow at your place of work as well as during your personal time. Attending additional classes, conferences, reading relevant books and blogs can all lead to bettering your already existing skills and building new ones.
If approached properly, your natural abilities will be highlighted and your weaknesses addressed. Define which areas of your skillset you think need a boost, and start working on them! You have everything to gain.