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A lawyer’s ability to be responsive to colleagues, build relationships, convey confidence and develop an optimistic thinking style are among the top traits for success in the legal profession, experts said during the American Bar Association Career Center panel “Top Traits for Success on the Job.”
“It is assumed that your lawyerly skills are in order and that you have the education and skills to be an effective attorney,” said Jim Lovelace, director of attorney training and development, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. “Energy and enthusiasm as far as responsiveness are really key to make a first impression and to make others want to work with you again.”
Lawyers should face difficult situations at work or in the courtroom with resilience.
“I think first and foremost it is important for lawyers to develop their resilience in order to bounce back and grow and thrive during challenge, change and stress, which I think every lawyer is going to encounter,” said Paula Davis-Laack, an internationally published writer and blogger.
They also must be able to develop an optimistic thinking style in order to be successful.
“Optimistic thinkers are really good about seeing solutions and where they have leverage and control,” Laack said.
Although pessimism is a trait lawyers must exude to do their work well, they must know when to turn it off.
“When you go into meetings with other lawyers or talking with some of your other colleagues, being pessimistic all of the time isn’t necessarily the best thing,” Laack said.
Appearing confident among colleagues and peers during meetings and in written communications, such as email, is also a strong trait to have if lawyers are trying to become successful in their careers.
“Lawyers think they are educated, and they’ve gone through school to get to where they are,” Lovelace said. “But when it comes to going into a meeting or how they couch things in an email … they can come off unwittingly as not as confident as they might be.”
When making first impressions, showing confidence is critical.
“Coming across as confident is extremely important because if you don’t, the more seasoned attorney is more likely to sense it, and that will concern them,” Lovelace said.
Being able to successfully build relationships can help catapult lawyers in their career.
“So much of what lawyers do is the relationship building, managing relationships with their clients, their employees, and for younger attorneys, it is managing relationships with the partners they work for,” Laack said. “I think being able to have that ability to build relationships is crucial.”
Laack recommends that lawyers use a technique called active constructive responding, which is nothing more than when someone shares good news, take 30 to 45 seconds to respond by asking a couple of questions.
“I think we go through our day so much as lawyers dealing with the negative and what can go wrong that we completely miss and go by those opportunities when people come to us with just good news,” Laack said. “Just take a couple of minutes — not even that long — to say “wow, good for you” and actually reliving that moment with a person.”
Tone of voice, such as the use of an upward inflection while speaking, can denote a lack of confidence.
“There is a lot of upward inflection in the way people speak, with both genders. In most cases, they are unaware that they do it. And generationally, when more senior people hear someone speak with an upward inflection, that might suggest that the person lacks confidence,” Lovelace said.
Lawyers can train themselves to stop doing it by recording their voice, listening and watching themselves speak, Lovelace said.
For lawyers who are looking for employment, all of these traits are transferable to job interviews.
“I think in both cases, people need to be prepared to talk with confidence and enthusiasm about what they do or what they would like to do,” Lovelace said.