As the legal field becomes more and more competitive, I think that it's especially critical for law students to take the time and begin working on skills that will serve them well in professional practice. Sure, you'll begin very familiar with researching case law and writing memos and briefs. But I'm specifically talking about some of those softer skills that will pay dividends down the road.
For me, there’s no question that law students should start developing client management skills. These skills aren’t really emphasized in law school but they are critical when you leave law school and enter the legal world.
As an example, there is an increasing emphasis in Big Law firms on commerciality. The idea is that attorneys should understand their client’s business and their objectives, all while communicating their ideas in a “non-legalese” way and completing their work in an efficient manner.
As young lawyers, it is so tempting to just drop doctrine into a memo or email to a client. It’s easy because you’re leveraging the skills that you primarily learn in law school—namely, doing deep dives into legal issues and wandering down rabbit holes once you start Shepardizing case law.
I get it. But you’ll quickly discover that clients mostly don’t care about the legal details.
They just want a solution to their problem.
It’s a simple idea, but if you can understand it in law school, you’ll be miles ahead of other recent law school grads who are starting their careers.
The best way to learn this skill in law school is through a clinic, preferably one where you have lots of client contact. You’ll also develop other critical skills (like how to manage client expectations) and will strengthen your emotional intelligence. By doing this, you’ll quickly discover that clients aren’t just names on a page. They are real people who are coming to you with real problems.
Finally, as an aside, I’d also recommend something a little more untraditional. I think law students should try developing their sales skills while in law school.
I don’t have a good answer on how to do this, as you’ll be busy enough with your courses. But I’ve discovered that many older attorneys wish they would have developed sales skills at a younger age. Yes, older attorneys will be handling business development tasks when you start your career. But as you get older, you’ll have to start selling yourself and the services that your firm offers. These skills don’t come naturally to many people, so the sooner you can work on these skills, the better.