Six Requirements for Every New Lawyer

The Stakes Couldn’t Be Greater
Ralph Wrobley, Esq.

At first, the only uniform trait among new-hires is intelligence. Over time, other – less obvious – qualities will help determine who becomes an equity partner and who remains an associate. Among them are six requirements that will positively differentiate you from other new lawyers:

Etiquette – If you have poor etiquette, it won’t matter how smart you are. Most law firms will take you as you are, but don’t be misled by the silence. It would be fairer to say that law firms do take you as you are initially, but that all aspects that make you a success are consciously or unconsciously evaluated as you progress. Good etiquette is an easy way to obtain a competitive advantage. Bottom line: get a good book on business etiquette.

Business Attire – “Business casual” is here to stay. But there’s still a delicate balance at most law firms. By overdressing, you make colleagues and clients feel self-conscious even uncomfortable. It’s just as foolish to find the most casual clothes that do not cause formal rebuke. Business fashion consultant Diane Domeyer says on-the-job attire “significantly” affects an employee’s advancement prospects. And while a proper wardrobe alone won’t earn you a promotion, dressing inappropriately could cost you one. Bottom line: dress in a way that shows you respect the people with whom you deal, and that you take your professional role seriously.

Presentation Skills – Have you ever suggested a good idea in a meeting only to find someone else got the credit? Have you ever had an idea ignored because your timing or presentation was off? The sooner you develop good presentation skills the sooner you will have developed a tool that may even be more important to your career than your intelligence. An ability to cause others to accept your position, an ability to direct the flow of a meeting, are assets to be treasured. Bottom line: if you need it, find a speaking coach to help you develop your presentation skills.

Body Language – Personal communication is a lawyer’s stock-in-trade. In fact, the experts say that 60 to 80 percent of our communication is non-verbal. In other words, body language. One expert says, “I simply don’t understand how anyone can try to sell a product, a service, an idea, a vision … or themselves … without full understanding and full command of their body language.” In her experience, the best of the best devotes a small percentage of each week to a critique of their facial expressions, body language, tone and overall presentation.

Writing Skills – The ability to write with clarity and precision is a skill without which attorneys cannot succeed … and is an opportunity to differentiate yourself. The Thomas Cooley Law School asked 1,462 lawyers and judges to read two pieces of prose, one using plain language and one using legalese and found that 80 percent preferred the passage of plain English. So, if you want to distinguish yourself from others, be clear, precise and persuasive … and watch out for typos and grammar. It’s not an understatement when I say that partners uniformly believe that such sloppiness is prejudicial even if the analysis is good. And it’s seen by clients or adversaries, it reflects on the firm as well.

Rainmaking – This is the ultimate differentiation. Most lawyers feel that rainmaking is not a skill they possess. And yet for most lawyers success requires this skill. So grin and bear it. Start early and learn how to attract and grow clients. And if you can’t be a rainmaker, at least you can be a “mist-maker”. Even if you go in-house, you will find that your rainmaking skills will stand you in good stead. Your clients may be captive, but they are still clients.

Ralph Wrobley, Esq., who recently retired after 45 years in law, was an equity partner in three AmLaw 200 firms. Mr. Wrobley is now of counsel with Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP.

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