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7 must-have ‘non-legal’ skills for a successful lawyer

Becoming a lawyer in India is not all that difficult. There are 700+ law colleges which have approximately 90,000 approved seats. There is the bar exam, which is open book, objective type and not all that difficult after all. Of course, lots of people still fail even this bar exam. However, being a good lawyer in the real world is pretty damn difficult. 

No matter whether you choose to go for an independent practice or work somewhere in a job – you'll have clients. Sometimes your clients are people who do not know law, at other times the client is a law firm or in-house legal department which employs you. It helps to think of the senior lawyer under whom you work as a client too. All of them want legal service from you.

Once you realize that this is the state of the world for a lawyer, you start to feel the heat of competition (no matter how much you have hated and shunned competition in college or school). You realise it is a race to the top between ambitious young lawyers – they must improve themselves in many ways to make it there.

Anyway, no matter what you do, there are some skills you want to build as a lawyer. No matter what you end up doing, these skills form the foundation of your being a lawyer. Most of these are not really taught in a college, or even a law school. So you are pretty much on your own. You of course have access to lot of material, many books about each of these, articles on the internet and courses built around these skills, but you must act on using those resources. There will be no exam day and night to study before – but small tests will be taken on every day of your life. There will be no gradation – but the difference will be seen in how other people treat you, your level of success and your ability to make things happen.

So what are these coveted skills?

#1 - Ability to speak and convince

Speak with unique expressions. Make your personality visible. Drop your guards and pretense and learn to speak from your heart. This does not mean speaking irrationally and speaking whatever garbage comes to your mind. Speaking from your heart means speaking without any intention to hide and no deception – presenting the best logic you have in the way you think and feel.

At the same time, what you say must be well thought out and understandable. If you are going to be a lawyer, you must invest a lot of time at some point of your life to learn to speak – both informal one to one kind of speaking, and formal public speaking. This is essential to being a lawyer. Note that every lawyer is not expected to be an extrovert, a pushy or an over confident person talking to everyone in the room and dominating every social situation. If you have any difficulty with speaking, get help. Work on it immediately. Learn theatre. Listen to public speeches by famous leaders. Get accent training or voice over course. It doesn't hurt a lawyer if he can speak as energetically as an RJ.

#2 - Ability to manage people

As a lawyer, no matter in what capacity, you will end up spending time managing clients, seniors, juniors, partners and all sorts of other people. You need to learn how to get along with people and get your work done. You must work on your people skill if you want to get anywhere as a lawyer.

#3 - Ability to negotiate

You get paid most as a lawyer when you are called to negotiate. The highest paid lawyers are master negotiators – no matter whether it is in a courtroom or a boardroom. Learning negotiation is not easy – no one is teaching it to you. Very few people try to learn this skill. We teach some negotiation skills in our business law course at iPleaders. Best way to learn it, is to be present at a lot of negotiations and observe the process. Do look for books and blogs on negotiation as well.

#4 - Ability to write effectively

What kind of lawyers get away with bad writing skills? The type you do not want to be. It's not that you just write briefs and memos and notes for your seniors every day. A lawyer who can not write persuasively is not a complete lawyer. Writing is a way of thinking. Unless you know how to write in a structured, precise and persuasive manner – a very important weapon of a lawyer's arsenal will be missing from your stock. Also, no one will invite you to write columns for newspapers.

#5 - Ability to sell

There is no way to get around it – no matter how noble the profession of lawyers is, a lawyer needs to sell his service. He also needs to rise over the clutter. A desperate category of lawyers in India simply work as agents and touts. Visit any jail in the country; you'll see these so called lawyers chasing you telling how they can miraculously get bail for any case in 2 days. While none of us want things to go to this state, it is true that unlike many other service professionals, most lawyers have no idea about marketing and sales.

The top lawyers and law firms are not there only because they are brilliant with their craft – connecting that ability with the right people is also important. Of course, once you reach a certain stature you can lay off the marketing and just focus on what you have – but that is hardly an option for someone starting out.

#6 - Ability to read fast

Most Indian college goers, including the law students in the top law colleges, stop developing reading skills after they pass 5th grade. Its highly likely that you can drastically improve your reading skills – in terms of speed and comprehension both. Try out speed reading skills – there is plenty of resources on the internet for this.

#7 - Your ability to understand technology and tools

This has become very important – how lawyers can work, the level of productivity etc has been changing fast. Indian lawyers are miles behind in terms of adopting technology tools that make their jobs easier, faster and cheaper when compared to their U.S. counterparts. In future, it can be safely predicated that the lawyers who understand technology well will surpass the others by miles in terms of productivity and effectiveness.

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