Susan Cartier Liebel has written for legal consultants Trebuchet about what she would l ike to have known before going to law school
I was recently asked by a friend and solo practice guru, Jay Foonberg, if I would canvas my Solo Practice University students and readers. He wanted to know what skills new law school grads wished they had prior to going to law school which would have helped them after they graduated and opened up solo practices. So, I asked. I told them it did not have to be law-related, just a skill set they now believe would have helped. It could be knitting to Chinese. It didn’t matter. I offered up what skills I wished I had prior to law school. Mine were additional languages and fluency in various cultures.
The responses I got were very interesting. Of course, respondents said marketing, bookkeeping, rainmaking skills, greater technological literacy. However, what was much more telling was the following and in no particular order:
- Acting, Public Speaking. Debate Club. — “I am a criminal defense lawyer. I wish I would have taken acting classes.”
- Human Relations – soft skills such as body language, interpersonal relationships
- Practical and Applied Psychology — “Practical/applied psychology. Getting clients to take responsibility and follow through would be very helpful.”
- Second Language (mainly Spanish) — “Spanish. I recently moved to an area with a lot of Spanish speaking people. There’s a very large client-base that I’m missing out on simply because I don’t make quite enough yet to hire a translator.”
Let’s discuss each.
You are in a court room. Learning how to present your case in a compelling way is critical. The art of storytelling is so important in case presentation. Eye contact with a jury, body language. Enunciation of words. The art of the pregnant pause. The need for such skills is so obvious it’s painful. But how many lawyers have taken drama, public speaking and/or Debate Club in junior or high school or been in summer theater? How many have connected the dots to their ease or struggles in the court room? I must confess, I was in our drama club and summer theater and I know the confidence it is instills. The skills I learned during those years have never failed me.
Duh! We are dealing with clients, human beings. Not having interpersonal skills, the ability to form basic relationships is, again, so obvious. And in this day and age where the majority of communication is being done through our portable devices, one wonders if this critical area of representing clients is being compromised? How can you sit and have an intimate and confidential discussion with a client when you’ve lost (or never fully developed) basic communication skills, sympathy, empathy and compassion?
Practical and Applied Psychology
All cases involve emotions. Understanding the emotions of your clients, the emotions of the opposing party, how to use those emotions for your client’s benefit and how to control those emotions to move cases along, is very important. Basic psychology and its application in your practice is a very key skill set.
Learning a Second (or Third) Language – Mainly Spanish
By 2030 the majority of Americans will be non-English speaking. The great majority will be Spanish. I think you can draw your own conclusions as to why learning a second language will be critical for your future in the law.
Understanding the economic climate of the country and jurisdiction where you practice is critical to knowing how to stay competitive in an ever changing market. You are building a business. And even if you are not in practice for yourself, you are working for someone who may fall victim to not understanding the economic climate and you may find yourself with a pink slip. By understanding economic principles such as supply and demand, cost/benefit analysis (risk/reward), ROI and knowing which geographic and socio-economic markets are growing and why, you will be able to better position yourself for the future.
If you’re reading this as a pre-law student, rethink your course selection in your last year of undergraduate school. If you are in law school, see if there are some business courses, acting classes, or others you could try to squeeze in found in your town’s adult education curricula. If you’ve already graduated, you don’t need to go back to formal school. Adult education is a great start as they offer eight week classes on a myriad of topics. Rosetta Stone is a great investment for Spanish or another language of your choice. The point is, it’s never too late to pick up these skills.
If you have other thoughts on what would (or would have) helped you after law school, please share in the comments.
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Susan Cartier Liebel is the founder and CEO of Solo Practice University®. A coach/consultant for solos and small firms, an attorney who started her own practice right out of law school, an Entrepreneur Mentor for the acclaimed Law Without Walls, a member of the advisory board for the innovative Suffolk School of Law – Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation, an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law for eight years teaching law students how to open their own legal practices right out of law school, a columnist for LawyersUSA Weekly, The Connecticut Law Tribune, The Complete Lawyer, and Law.com, Susan has contributed to numerous online publications including Forbes.com, Also interviewed by MSNBC, Susan is often quoted in legal publications and books on solo practice as well as entrepreneurship and issues facing women in the workforce. Connect with Susan on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Plus.
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