Abraham Lincoln once said that a lawyer “has a superior opportunity of being a good person. There will be business enough.” The requirements for obtaining the professional distinction have changed considerably since Lincoln’s time. While he was only required to obtain an Illinois court document vouching for his “moral character,” today’s attorneys typically undertake several years of rigorous study and must pass difficult exams to practice their skill professionally. However, Lincoln’s sentiment can serve as a grounding principle for legal professionals. Above all, lawyers must trust in the law’s ability to maintain and improve society and act as an agent for justice. That said, the modern attorney needs a very specific skill set that includes the following essential qualities.
The ability to negotiate is arguably the most coveted skill a litigator can possess. Crushing the competition may be the chosen approach of a business leader or athletic coach, but it’s unlikely to yield the best result in a legal dispute. A talented negotiator takes the expectations of all parties into account and positions him or herself creatively to achieve an outcome that everyone can live with.
It’s a given that studying law requires thousands of pages of reading and tons of writing, but the best lawyers are those with an exceptional command of all phases of verbal communication. Their reading comprehension must match their efficiency, meaning they can rapidly sift through a large volume of text and accurately find pertinent information. On the writing side of the equation, drafting briefs accurately and quickly requires advanced skills. Their ability to communicate with colleagues and clients clearly and concisely should not be undervalued either.
Lawyers may spend much of their time navigating briefs, documents, and correspondence behind the scenes, but truly effective ones are those who can steal the spotlight when the time comes. An attorney should be able to capture attention with both spontaneous performances and well-prepared presentations. Specifically in trial situations, facts might not speak loudly enough for themselves, and it is counsel’s job to illuminate important points through demonstration.
Logic and Analysis
Good counsel always maintains a personal distance from the situation at hand and relies on impartial judgment to find the best course of action. One cannot succeed in the legal profession without the ability to see past personal feelings and biases that can cloud logical thinking.
Though it may counter the previous statement, a passion for justice and a spirit of perseverance in the name of the client can set great lawyers apart from those just going through the motions. Practicing law is a demanding calling, and lacking an outstanding commitment to the profession can make for a mediocre attorney.
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