Thought For The Day

Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.

Golda Meir, Prime Minister Of Israel

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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.



Career Counselors, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | 4 Comments

Thought For The Day

All the so-called “secrets of success” will not work unless you do.


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NAPLA Conference Explores Law Practice Outside the Traditional Lines

Last week I was in Baltimore at the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors (NAPLA) Conference hosted by the University of Baltimore Law and the University of Maryland Law.  The programs included some new subject matter centered on “JD-Preferred” career paths, and I liked what I heard.  Too often conference programs focus on the “JD-Required” career opportunities only, and, especially in the current economic and jobs climate, the emphasis on career opportunities outside the traditional settings seems like a good idea.  There also was some good news about the job market, and I am sure all of you are ready for that!

Panelists from law schools in the northeast discussed the still dismal state of the market for law graduates, including lower starting salaries than five years ago, runaway law school tuition and high law school loan debts.  Same old, same old.  However, the experts also emphasized the lifetime value of the earnings by law school graduates and presented data demonstrating increases in scholarships to offset student loan debt and other measures law schools are undertaking to increase financial literacy among their students.  Although that may seem like a cartoon character band-aide for a major hemorrhage, it is at least some relief.

My favorite part of the program, however, addressed the advent of “JD-Preferred” positions in businesses and entrepreneurial ventures that can be very satisfying and rewarding.  There were some interesting slides presented that showed high percentages of law graduates engaged in business rather than law firm settings, including a breakdown of those statistics for the various areas of the country.  That information was followed by a presenter, who had left law practice and is now the Director of Marketing and Business Development at a law firm.  She described the increasing need for marketing, business development and case resource management that is internal to law firms but is not the function of practicing lawyers.  Think new kinds of jobs for law graduates …. without billable hour requirements!

Although this increase in non-traditional law jobs likely is related to the recession-induced chill on hiring in law firms and other traditional employment settings, let’s not knock it.  Technology is the way of the future, and many of these “JD Preferred” jobs are related to the growth in the technology sector.  And, that cannot be so bad.  Yes, the 2000-hour billable requirement job pays well, but who has more fun?  Hard to say, but good to think about.

So, there was much to think about at NAPLA this year.  I also enjoyed a program that addressed “The Outlier” law school applicant.  Not everyone, who applies to law school, has impressive LSAT scores and GPAs for a variety of reasons, whether those reasons involve learning disabilities or experiential issues.  It is heartening that admissions directors are beginning to acknowledge that fact and find ways to identify Outliers, who will perform well in law school, will make fine lawyers and are worth the risk.  The panelists shared compelling stories of some of these Outliers and their successes, and you had to admire the true grit of these young people.

As always, I look forward to the next NAPLA.  I always see friends and colleagues there, and I appreciate the efforts of the program directors to address cutting edge issues.  I also enjoy sharing Best Friends at the Bar with the attendees, and I love it when people stop by my display table to chat.  This year people were especially interested to hear about the new book I am writing. 

More on that later!



Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Thought For The Day

Courage is about doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.
Eddie Rickenbacker (1890-1973); Medal Of Honor Recipient

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Thought For The Day

The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.

Elbert Hubbard

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NOW Honors Heidi Levine, a Superadvocate for Women Lawyers

I am so pleased that the National Organization for Women (NOW) chose Heidi Levine, Co-Managing Partner of the New York office of DLA Piper, as one of the recipients of the Women of Power & Influence Award.  I am personally acquainted with her dedication to young women lawyers, and Heidi is a perfect choice.  As a participant in programs for women lawyers at DLA, I have witnessed Heidi’s devotion to the cause of retaining women in the profession and helping them advance to partnership and positions of management  and leadership.  She is a true believer in “paying it forward.”  Because that is a major theme of Best Friends at the Bar, I am particularly drawn to Heidi’s work and her messages.

Heidi’s rise to power has been meteoric, but it has not been without the kinds of challenges that many of you face and will face.  In her acceptance speech for the NOW award, she focused on the positive impact power and influence can have on the advancement of women in the workplace and how the power and influence of others has positively impacted her and her career.  Here are some highlights of her speech:

  • The solution to creating the next generation of women with power and influence is encouraging and providing incentives for men and women to make differences by acting as mentors;
  • Mentoring is not just talking and teaching.  Supervising lawyers give significant responsibilities to their young women reports and mentees and should challenge them to advance to the next level of practice;
  • Lawyers and clients can work together to recognize talent and to open doors for young women lawyers;
  • When a woman lawyer reaches the level of power and leadership in the profession, she owes a responsibility to give back and help provide those same opportunities to younger women; and
  • No matter how senior Heidi has become in her law firm, she never loses sight of the fact that she continues to benefit from having a mentor.

Heidi Levine does not just talk the talk.  She walks the walk.  She helped create a women’s initiative at DLA, which became an internal alliance of women committed to creating opportunities for other women and looking out for each other.  She made sure that the initiative included programs with inspirational speakers, law firm management consultants and other experts and was a true working alliance.  Through it all, Heidi was not concerned about the amount of time that she devoted to mentoring and encouraging young women lawyers.  She knew that it was time away from networking with the “big boys,” but she owned the choice because of her dedication to the futures of the women lawyers in her firm and to diversity in the profession.  Heidi Levine, a woman I admire and am honored to call my friend, is an excellent role model for women in the law, and I hope that all of you will benefit from her example.

I also am pleased to tell you that Heidi and I will be on a panel together at the University of Baltimore Law School next fall.  For those of you at UB Law or in Baltimore-area schools, stay tuned to the blog to find out the particulars.  We will be joined by a prominent female in-house counsel, and the panel will provide excellent advice for young women in all areas of practice.   Hope to see you there!

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Thought For The Day

I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.

Martha Washington

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