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Legal Interests and Skills

published February 19, 2013

By Harrison Barnes, CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 132 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
You can become a lawyer. Almost anyone can. That's the great attraction-and the great risk-of a career in law. In fact, choosing a career in law may be easier than choosing another career that's a better fit for you. For that reason, the most important question this article can help you answer is whether or not you should become a lawyer.

The Perfect Job Description


In a famous First Amendment decision, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said he wouldn't attempt to define pornography, "but I know it when I see it." A lot of us take the same approach to finding the right job. We can't really say what we want, but figure that we'll know it when we find it. Sadly, that approach often doesn't work.
 
Legal Interests and Skills

Let's at least try to define what it is that you want in a job. Start by answering the following general questions:
 
  1. My perfect job would involve the following day-to-day tasks
  2. I want to achieve the following balance between my work and personal lives
  3. When I think of a person I admire in the working world, the things I find most enticing about that person's job are
  4. I want a job that makes me feel
  5. I want a job that gives me the freedom to
  6. Right now, I think that the three most important reasons to work are
  7. I want to work with people who
  8. I want my work hours to be
  9. In my job, I want to learn
  10. My ideal job would be located in

Now go back over your answers and use them to write a single paragraph that describes your perfect job in general terms. Keep that paragraph handy as you read the descriptions in this article about what different lawyers do and as you talk to people about their jobs. Compare your "perfect job description" with what you discover others are doing. Think about how closely your perfect job description matches what different lawyers actually do.

Each of us has personal interests and preferences that affect our enjoyment of work and working conditions. Let's try to figure out how your interests and work preferences mesh with the practice of law.

Desire to Help Others Solve Problems

Fundamentally, lawyers are paid to help people solve problems. This often requires becoming as fully involved with your clients and their problems as you would with members of your own family. To counsel your clients, you must know them and be well acquainted with their motivations.

In addition to providing legal advice, the best lawyers provide emotional and psychological support too when that is necessary. Lawyers cannot be interested in solving problems only in the abstract; they should also enjoy becoming involved with people and should have a strong desire to help others. Some lawyers complain that "law would be great if it weren't for the clients." This refrain reflects an unhappiness or unease about becoming involved with the people behind the problems. Think about how you react when friends or family members bring their problems to you and you will gain an insight into how much you would enjoy becoming a lawyer.

Enjoyment of Analysis

Lawyers investigate, organize, analyze, communicate, and predict. They must devise ways to understand recent history in order to predict future actions or events. The best lawyers undertake this analysis objectively, not emotionally. Do you enjoy painstaking investigation of facts, getting immersed in the details? Do you enjoy the reading, thinking, and organizing involved in preparing a long research paper? Do you enjoy writing that is factual and objective rather than creative or persuasive? The answers to these questions should help you decide whether you'd like doing what lawyers do.

Comfort with Public Speaking

Lawyers are sometimes put down as being mere "mouthpieces" for their clients. Setting aside the negative connotations of the description, that's exactly what lawyers do. They communicate for their clients. Lawyers speak to judges, juries, and most often to other lawyers. Whether on the phone or in person, one-on-one or to a large group, lawyers are always talking, often in "public." What's more, most "speeches" by lawyers are not made from prepared remarks, so lawyers have to be quick on their feet. Do you get shy or nervous talking to a group or to people you don't know? Do you feel uncomfortable speaking up in class or asking for directions? If so, there will be many times that you will feel uncomfortable as a lawyer.

Toughness in Debate and Negotiation

Much of what lawyers do involves debate and negotiation, argument and conflict. As a lawyer, your ultimate goal is to protect your client's interests. This means standing up to the bullies, staring down the stubborn, and convincing the hardheaded. Because lawyers deal with other lawyers, the guy on the other side thinks you're the stubborn bully-hence the conflict.

Some lawyers thrive on conflict and competition. A good lawyer seeks to avoid conflict but is also tough enough to prevail when it arises. If you withdraw from conflict, you are unlikely to enjoy law. How do you react when someone cuts in front of you in a long line at the grocery store? Do you haggle over price when buying a car? Do you engage someone who expresses a political point of view with which you disagree? These experiences are clues to whether you would enjoy what lawyers do.

Lawyers Deal In Crisis

The phone rings and their priorities change: the client has an emergency, the trial will start next week, the deal has to close by the end of the month, and we have to talk right away. Deadlines can be imposed by clients, colleagues, or courts. They are simply a fact of legal life, and they are constantly changing. With changing deadlines comes the juggling to accomplish everything you must when you must. Plans change, weekends are lost, and vacations are canceled. The pressure can become intense. If you thrive on pressure and react well to deadlines, you are more likely to enjoy law. If you work best when you can control what you do and when, you may find the practice of law frustrating.

Acceptance of Uncertainty

Law is as much an art as it is a science. To some questions there is a right answer, but to most questions a lawyer can offer advice based only on judgment and experience. A lawyer must be able to admit that she doesn't know, for example, how a new statute will be interpreted, and yet still give advice in which her client will have confidence. If you are the type that needs to know there is a right answer and you have found it, you may find law difficult to practice.

What It Takes
 
  1. Reading. A lawyer must be able to read detailed, complex documents and understand them. Often the reading is tedious and the writing poor. Nevertheless, the lawyer must be able to sift through the details and discern what is significant and what's not.
  2. Writing. An attorney often has to communicate complex ideas and make them sound simple and logical. Style, grammar, and organization should help foster the communication, not distract from it.
  3. Speaking/Listening. Attorneys spend a substantial amount of time speaking to clients, the opposing attorney, witnesses, and representatives of the legal system. Just as with writing, a lawyer has to communicate clearly. A lawyer must articulate the client's position in a cogent, persuasive manner, no matter who the audience is. An attorney must also be able to engender trust when speaking, especially when dealing with clients, judges, or jurors.
  4. The flip side of talking is listening. The most effective lawyers excel at listening. That means they pay attention to someone's words, tone, and body language to hear what's really being said. They follow up on offhand, but important, comments. And they filter through much of what they're told to get the information critical to the legal issues facing the client.
  5. Prioritizing/Time Management. Because most lawyers serve many clients, a lawyer must be able to manage time effectively and prioritize assignments. A procrastinator or a disorganized attorney will not fare well with clients or colleagues who are depending on them.
  6. Creativity. Any lawyer can tell a client whether or not the client can undertake a proposed activity or resolve a dispute. The best lawyers find a way to make it happen that fits within the law.
  7. Ability to Work with Others. Even if a lawyer is a solo practitioner, he or she will work with an administrative assistant, a paralegal, or other support personnel. A lawyer who practices with others will have to work well with colleagues.
  8. Analytical Skills. All attorneys need to have the ability to reason. Analysis, the process of drawing logical conclusions from the facts, is a key component of any lawyer's job. Legal analysis is often by analogy. Lawyers have to apply the law to their client's situation before they can determine how best to advise their client. A primary tool for applying law to fact is the ability to compare one like situation to another.
  9. Conflict Management. Conflict is a component of every lawyer's life. Some lawyers welcome conflict and thrive on it. Even those who do not enjoy conflict must learn how to manage it to the advantage of their clients.
  10. Ability to Learn. Because of the complexity of law, no lawyer ever succeeds in mastering everything-that's why lawyers "practice" law. The most competent lawyers know how to teach themselves quickly, either by relying on others to provide the necessary information or by collecting it themselves through research, interviews, or other information-gathering techniques.
  11. Dedication. Law is hard work. It requires both a willingness to work long hours and perseverance in the face of adversity and stress.

Do you possess some or all of these skills? If you are lacking some of these skills now, can you develop them in the future? If not, it may be time to begin thinking about whether the skills you do have could be better used in another career.

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Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

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