Desired skills and attributes of junior lawyers vary from firm to firm, but there are a large handful of common themes. We’ve listed our top five here. (We’ve not included intellectual ability in the list – that’s a given!)
1. Relentless enthusiasm and resilience
The life of a lawyer will throw up a variety of challenges, including long hours, intricate research tasks, difficult clients, and complex legal queries. Your ability to handle these with integrity and stay enthusiastic and motivated in the process won’t go unnoticed by superiors. Say yes to everything you can but also be realistic. Partner gripes over trainees often involve a missed deadline which could have easily been avoided if the trainee had been honest and not taken on the work in the first place. Always ask when they need the work delivered by so you are clear about your priorities. If you need help, ask for it – as long as you’ve tried to find the answer first. As a junior lawyer you will be tested to deal with projects or situations out of your depth; it’s one of the best ways to learn. Carry an pen and notepad with you at ALL times; you never know when someone is going to stop you in the hall and ask you to do something. It’s not great if you have to go back to them later to ask them basic question.
2. Exceptional attention to detail
This is one of the most important skills you can have as a lawyer. The profession is all about the detail, so get to know it well. The meaning of a clause can be completely changed by a rogue comma – so don’t underestimate the necessity for rigorously checking your work. If you send emails to clients containing spelling or grammatical mistakes, it won’t be viewed kindly.
3. Top-notch communication skills in all forms
As a lawyer, your job is to advise clients who may have no legal knowledge whatsoever. Clarity in your written communication is imperative. That means being concise, writing their language (avoiding jargon), and making it easy for them to understand. You will be expected to keep your communications focused on the client’s needs and be able to adjust your tone as necessary. When dealing with clients or colleagues over the phone or face to face, be professional but relatable. And if you don’t know the answer to a question – avoid guessing. Say that you’ll look into the matter and get back to them.
4. Ability to apply commercial awareness
This is a desirable skill regardless of the size of the firm you’re in and done well, will really set you apart from your peers. Being aware of what is happening in the world by keeping up to date with the news is one thing, but using that awareness practically is something that will really impress. Could an economic development impact on one of your projects? How will the latest budget affect your clients? Could your firm benefit from or be damaged by a particular news story? Are you able to spot a business opportunity? Make sure to attend industry events that may have relevance to your clients so you can network and act as a trusted business advisor and not just technical lawyer. Cross-selling is important to make the time to keep up-to-date with other practice areas in the firm so they approach you first for potential work and visa versa.
5. Ambition for yourself and the firm
Show initiative. You don’t have to wait to be asked to do something if you know it needs to be done. If you enjoy meeting new people, show an interest in networking with a view to netting future clients. Although junior lawyers are not expected to get too involved in business development activity, an early appreciation of its value to the firm will certainly impress.. This may take a fairly subtle form in your early career; for example you may choose to attend industry functions around your clients’ sectors.
As a junior lawyer, a great way of showing your commitment is through your training choices. For example, if you’re a trainee, make sure your Professional Skills Courses are relevant, both to your firm and the future you’re looking for, and if you want to gain advocacy experience, demonstrate this by taking a Higher Rights of Audience Course. If you’re looking to supervise and take the next step on the career ladder, then you will need practical management and leadership training.
Find out more about Altior’s courses here.