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Key skills for lawyers

updated on 04 September 2019

To secure a training contract or pupillage, you will need to demonstrate several key skills and attributes that will also be essential throughout your career. Law is an intellectually demanding profession, so your academic results – from your GCSEs to your final degree classification – are important. Although some law firms may be willing to overlook less-than-perfect grades in light of other achievements, most will expect good A levels and at least a 2.1 degree.

Meanwhile, an excellent academic record is arguably even more important for a career as a barrister.

But academic excellence alone won't be enough to make your application successful; you will also need to demonstrate other skills throughout the selection process and beyond, when your career has taken off.

Communication and networking skills

Successful solicitors and barristers have to build and maintain relationships with clients, which are often based on rapport between individual people even when the client is a large organisation. This requires excellent interpersonal skills, which you will also need when meeting potential employers and colleagues when at interview or on a vacation scheme.

The ability to network, an activity that all but the most confident can find awkward, is also important when seeking a training contract or pupillage, as well as when winning work and building client relationships. So before you first enter a room full of strangers, all standing in closed circles and engaged in animated conversation, and feel the urge to find a corner, gulp down a drink and leave, be sure to pick up a few tips on how to get the best out of these potentially tricky – yet opportune – situations.

Read our guide to networking for trainees and students, then listen to the advice of LCN’s experienced networker, Matthew Broadbent.

Interview technique

To do well in an interview, you will need good interpersonal and verbal communication skills. There is more to it than that, though – preparation is vital.

There is a wealth of help on LCN, starting with our feature on interview preparation and technique. Video interviews are also an increasingly common part of the application process, so read this guide to video interviews, too.  

Meanwhile, aspiring barristers should read this feature on preparing for a pupillage interview.

Writing

Being a lawyer involves a lot of email and letter writing, and plenty of paperwork, so good spelling and grammar, and the ability to express yourself clearly, are essential. You also need to be aware of your audience and your need to write in a formal tone (no application bantz, pls). Remember, the slightest spelling mistake could ruin your application, while recruiters want to read clear, concise answers to the questions on the application form – not waffle.

Before applying for a training contract or pupillage, read LCN's guide to writing cover letters, CVs and applications.

Application technique

Your application must clearly demonstrate your skills and range of work experience, while it must also be free of typos and addressed to the right firm.

To learn more about application technique, read our application masterclass and our guide to online application forms.

Commercial awareness

Modern lawyers also need to think like business people and tailor their legal advice so that it helps clients to achieve their goals and avoid pitfalls. This involves understanding the sectors in which your firm and clients operate, which you can start developing as a student by keeping up with business stories in the media.

Get started with our commercial awareness section which explains more about what commercial awareness means and how to develop this important skill. You should also read our Commercial Question section, which sees lawyers from leading firms explore a different commercial law issue every week.

Soft skills

Your general attitude – and how it comes across in your actions, words and presentation – is going to be a crucial factor in whether or not you get a training contract or pupillage, as well as in your later career. For an insight into how practising lawyers rely on these skills on a daily basis, read the profiles of practising lawyers in our Meet the Lawyer section.