by Kathleen Wareham
Many years ago as I was preparing for law school, a friend gave me book about how to be more “fully human.” It worried me. She was a paralegal in a law firm
and knew a lot more about law practice than I did. Could she
think law school would rob me of my humanity?
Fast forward 35 years and my conclusion is people skills
matter as much as, and sometimes more than, technical,
knowledge-based legal skills. Mediating with hundreds of lawyers has confirmed for me that the most effective advocates
demonstrate self-awareness. They have strong leadership
skills. They understand their client’s needs and they practice
respect. They listen attentively.. These traits are among several skills, sometimes called “soft skills,” which can be learned.
When practiced, soft skills help lawyers better serve their
clients, the judicial system, and our communities.
In his book “Soft Skills for the Effective Lawyer,” Randall
Kiser, an authority on attorney performance, explains that
soft skills “are to hard skills as software is to hardware.” Kiser makes a compelling case. He argues that incompetence
with soft skills can render the “hardware” of lawyering (i.e.
knowledge of the law and advocacy skills) non-functioning
As a mediator I often encounter lawyers who are competent navigating the hardware of the law: knowledgeable in
their area of legal expertise, and excellent advocates of their
clients’ positions. It is the soft skills I see lawyers struggle
with. The good news is these are skills that lawyers can learn.
The start is recognizing their validity and effectiveness.
Soft skills are subjective abilities, traits and habits demonstrating understanding of human behavior and motivation. It makes sense that understanding human emotions and behavior would help anyone providing professional services. But the adversarial system
can lead lawyers to emphasize strident advocacy. Soft
skills can be seen as signs of weakness. Lawyers are
in a complex people business, with duties to clients,
courts, and the community. Lawyers’ ethical duties
can obviously be complicated, including the tension
between honoring client decisions and advising them
as to the consequences of those decisions.
Randall Kiser decided to focus his research on the
role of soft skills in lawyer performance after years of
studying effective advocacy and durable attorney-cli-
ent relationships. Kiser took a multidisciplinary,
practice-based approach. In "Soft Skills for the Effec-
tive Lawyer," Kiser describes and applies hundreds
of studies regarding psychology, law, and soft skills
and makes the compelling argument that lawyers who
learn, develop, and use soft skills are more effective.
Kiser cites research results comparing intelligence,
technical skills, and emotional intelligence which
demonstrate: ( 1) at all job levels, emotional intelligence
is twice as important as technical intelligence and ( 2)
at leadership levels, soft skills are the key differenti-
ator. In the study, nearly 90 percent of senior leaders
demonstrated significant emotional intelligence. In a
"soft skills" can
make us better