4 Soft Skills for Law and Politics Students
Lawyers and politicians share a common set of “hard” skills, including analytical ability, negotiating and public speaking. However, the also share a set of “soft” skills which, while not as well-known, can make all the difference when it comes to achieving career success. If you’re attending law school with plans to either practice as a lawyer or go into politics, these four soft skills can help you go far.
In basic terms, empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In including empathy as one of four vital soft skills for legal talent, Hire an Esquire says, “When it comes to relating to people on the job — particularly with clients — it is important to be able to understand and appreciate others’ points of view. In the legal profession, the ability to be empathetic aids negotiation, conflict resolution, and the ability to convince others of your argument’s merits.”
While this seems fairly straight-forward for lawyers, the territory can be a bit murkier for politicians. In fact, some could argue that many politicians who gone very far have been the opposite of empathetic. Still, experts insist that in terms of the long run, politicians with empathy facilitate better outcomes for the people they represent.
As scientific director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education Dr. Emma Seppala told Huffington Post, “We think confidence, high self-esteem, dominance and authority make people good leaders, but that is not often the case. Individuals with these traits -- also called narcissism -- often have big blind spots, don’t work well with others because they are not trustworthy, and have an overconfidence that leads them to make mistakes. The best leaders are those who have high emotional intelligence and a values-driven approach: humility, compassion, trustworthiness and empathy.”
Lawyers and politicians alike must both be capable of clearly and compellingly articulating their own thoughts. The value of listening skills, however, are often sorely overlooked.
Contends a Law Trends & News article, “When participating in mediation, your goals are to serve your client’s needs, advocate for your client’s best interest, and create a workable, durable solution. To reach these goals, you must listen attentively to all participants (your client, the opposing party and counsel, and the mediator) throughout the mediation process.”
Politicians are also accountable for representing the needs and wants of their constituents, and listening skills are a big part of determining what those needs and wants are, as well as a tool for being a better leader in general. Writes N2Growth Chairman Mike Myatt for Forbes, “Being a leader should not be viewed as a license to increase the volume of rhetoric. Rather astute leaders know there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by dominating it. In this age of instant communication everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their mind, they fail to realize the value of everything that can be gleaned from the minds of others.”
This one is in quotes because it’s more slippery term than the others on this list. But it doesn’t mean it’s less important. If you’ve ever been in a room with someone who commanded the attention of everyone there without saying a word, then you know that’s it’s possible to make a big impression by things like how you stand and move in the company of others.
A dynamic combination of charisma and communication skills, presence is often thought of as a “you’ve either got it or you don’t” trait. But, according to Psychology Today, it’s actually a “conscious choice” -- and one that can help lawyers and politicians alike advance in their careers. Contends Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, “Every aspect of your presence has social meaning, including your emotions and how you are assessing the people you are with. People are ‘feeling you out’ before you speak. Therefore, you need to develop both your cognitive and sensory awareness to ensure people feel safe and uplifted by your presence.”
4. Time Management
Time management isn’t just about scheduling out your day. It also includes everything from learning how to say no (politely), how to work as part of a team, and how and when to delegate -- all of which are useful tools for lawyers and politicians.
But you don’t have to take it from us; take it from former President Barack Obama instead. In describing the high-level techniques used by the 44th president throughout his career, AgileLifestyle.net identifies carving out personal time, sticking to a routine, and conserving willpower as three resources which promote peak productivity in the busy, demanding and high-profile careers of lawyers and politicians.
The good news? While many people once believed that soft skills were something that couldn’t be learned, we now know that they can be taught, which is why many law firms are stepping up to help their employees master these skills. However, many experts argue that this training can begin even sooner, and are calling for law schools to integrate these skills as part of their curricula.
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.