Susan Smith Blakely

Soft Skills for Young Women Lawyers

I am hearing a lot more about "soft skills" for lawyers these days.  Even though the emphasis on soft skills may be new, the concepts themselves are not.  The buzz words simply have raised the visibility of these concepts.

I have been writing and speaking about "soft skills" for years, including chapters in my books devoted to subjects like Be a Team Player, Find Good Mentors, Ask for Help When You Need It, Find a Comfort Zone for Promoting Work, Treat Support Staff Well, and Watch Your Mouth.

To discuss soft skills, we first must define the "hard skills" that lawyers need.  The hard skills are the ones that come to mind first when most young lawyers contemplate what they need to succeed in the law.  Those include intelligence, strong analytical skills, excellent writing skills, good judgment, and diligence (including lack of procrastination).  These are the kinds of skills that most law schools concentrate on in developing practice ready graduates and preparing them to pass bar exams.

While it is true that these hard skills are critical to success in the law profession, they are not enough.  There is so much more that goes into being successful as a lawyer, and those things cannot be overlooked.  Disregarding them is to proceed at your own risk and setting yourself up for almost certain disappointment.

To quote a friend of mine, a partner in the largest law firm in the world, "Everyone in our firm is smart.  Some are smarter than others.  The degree of smart is not what typically determines success.  It is the soft skills.  The ones who pay attention to the soft skills generally fare better than the others."

Here's a list of some of the soft skills that you need to develop.  Your goals should include:

Being a good communicator and a good listener;
Having the ability to accept feedback and use it positively it improve your product;
Learning to network and develop work;
Having a good attitude about work and getting the job done;
Becoming a good time manager;
Having adaptability to a variety of job settings;
Being assertive in the workplace to get the best experience possible;
Being comfortable with collaboration and being a member of a team;
Having confidence in yourself and your abilities;
Being polite and courteous;
Being a creative thinker;
Developing management and leadership skills;
Developing negotiation skills;
Being astute about office politics;
Having a sense of humor and not taking yourself too seriously;
Developing and using emotional intelligence;
Being empathetic; and
Finding mentors and becoming a mentor to others.

Master these soft skills to compliment the hard skills and distinguish yourself from the crowd. To do that, you will have to get out of your office, get to know the people you work with, volunteer for assignments, go to the social events, and take advantage of the opportunity to have the other members of the firm get to know you.  Grinding it out at your computer day in and day out to bill more hours than anyone else without even taking lunch with colleagues is a big mistake.  When your name comes up in an associate review or later in consideration for partner, you do not want the partners glossing over because they have no idea who you are.

Good luck with the hard skills and the soft skills!  For a more complete list of soft skills, see this article from a popular job search website.


Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches.  She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 

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