For all the notoriety of the legal profession, a great deal of people are fascinated by the law. Tens of thousands of people enter law school each year and there are over 1,000 colleges in the U.S. that have paralegal programs. While much has been written about how to build a successful legal career, we got to wondering whether there were any innate characteristics that lend to success in the law.
Here’s what we came up with:
It doesn’t matter what area of the law you practice, all legal professionals need to have a certain amount of competitive drive. This is because, at its core, a legal career is about winning. Obviously, litigation teams, prosecutors, and defense practices are highly concerned with winning lawsuits. Yet, other legal professionals also need to come out on top.
Real estate attorneys, for example, need to negotiate the best deals for their clients – that’s a win. Transactional lawyers likewise need to draft contracts and operating documents that set their clients up for success – also a win.
There’s a reason why so many professional athletes become lawyers. Athletes, like those in the law, are driven to succeed.
The very first rule of professional conduct promulgated by the ABA demands competence. Specifically, Model Rule 1.1 states that in order to be competent, a legal professional must exhibit “legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation.”
There’s not a single area of the law where these four attributes of competence do not come into play. Nonetheless, not everyone possesses them naturally. The ones who do, however, tend to enjoy ongoing success. If you don’t believe us, spend a day watching hearings before a judge. We’re confident you’ll observe much different outcomes for those lawyers who do show up with legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation, as opposed to those who do not.
On a day-to-day basis, the practice of law is about helping people. Even if your client base consists of nothing but corporate entities, your daily interactions are with real people who have real problems. Consequently, a successful legal professional needs to show a great deal of compassion.
Indeed, some have assumed that lawyers not only need to have compassion for others but compassion for themselves as well. Solving problems for others is hard work that can tug at the heartstrings. A heavy dose of compassion can make that process easier for legal teams and their clients.
As noted above, lawyers and other legal professionals are hired to solve problems. Many times, those problems don’t have easy answers. As such, legal teams often need to think outside the box to find a resolution that satisfies their clients. This requires a certain amount of curiosity about the world, how it currently works, and how it might look if their clients’ problems disappeared.
This characteristic almost goes without saying. Legal teams must be careful with the matters their clients entrust them with. The examples here are endless:
- Failure to be careful in formatting a legal brief can result in the court rejecting that brief and, consequently, the client missing an important deadline.
- Failure to be careful in memorializing a client’s desired deal points in the final draft of a contract can lead to a client being stuck in a deal they didn’t want.
- Failure to accurately cite to case law can lead to embarrassment, chastisement from opposing counsel, and – worst of all – sanctions from the court.
In other words, a successful legal professional has to be the type of person who actually enjoys dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s.
Finally, a successful legal professional must undoubtedly be clever. Note that the definition of “clever” reflects more than just intelligence. It also includes things like being: “mentally bright … able … skillful, witty, or original in character or construction.”
Cleverness requires the ability to think on one’s feet, to listen and respond when spoken to, and to innovate. Importantly, it also requires an understanding of when one should slow down, stop speaking, or back off.
Legal professionals can always study the law in order to become smarter practitioners. Cleverness, however, is an innate skill that some people just naturally possess. Those individuals often find great success within the legal profession.
Of course, there are a million different attributes that lead to success within the law (many of which do not start with the letter C, by the way). However, if you and your colleagues possess a mixture of the above characteristics, chances are you’ll find great success together.