Creating the Ideal Lawyer

By Ruthe Catolico Ashley

What are law firms and legal employers looking for in an ideal candidate? Although there is no bright line answer, it is important to possess some basic fundamental lawyering skills. You probably had many of these skills before entering law school, and your law school education will enhance them. Beyond that, your life experience and your maturity will also produce skills that will be important in the practice of law. Moreover, you will acquire other skills during your law school experience. Employers want to know that you possess at least some of the fundamental skills that will be used in every job situation.

General characteristics that make a good lawyer are the same characteristics that make a good employee or a good leader. Do these characteristics describe you? If not, it is time to think about what important characteristics you may need to develop to become the best lawyer you can be.

For the characteristics that you already possess, think of concrete examples in your own work or school experience that illustrate these skills. Think of how you present yourself in an interview as an interview infomercial. Do you have interesting anecdotes to relate that illustrate your skills, or are you simply reciting the job description? Don’t make the interviewer work to see what skills you have acquired and honed in the course of each job—spell them out. The key to successfully garnering new employment is to show employers how your past experience translates into transferable skills that will allow you to make a significant contribution to their organization.

Characteristics Lawyers Should Have

  • Energy
  • Follow-through
  • Ability to juggle multiple tasks and prioritize
  • Ability to pick up new information quickly
  • Ability to deal with time pressures and tight deadlines
  • Ability to work well in a team
  • Initiative
  • Motivation
  • Creativity

Skills Lawyers Should Have
Problem Solving

  • Identifying and formulating legal issues
  • Generating alternative solutions and strategies
  • Developing a plan of action
  • Implementing the plan
  • Keeping the planning process open to new information and new ideas

Legal Analysis and Reasoning

  • Identifying legal issues
  • Formulating and evaluating relevant legal theories
  • Elaborating upon and extrapolating legal theory
  • Criticizing and synthesizing legal arguments

Legal Research

  • Knowledge of the nature of legal rules and institutions
  • Knowledge of and ability to use fundamental tools of legal research
  • Understanding of the process of devising and implementing a coherent and effective research strategy
Factual Investigation
  • Determining the need for factual investigation
  • Planning a factual investigation
  • Implementing the investigative strategy
  • Memorializing and organizing information in an accessible form
  • Deciding whether and when to conclude the process of fact-gathering
  • Evaluating the information that has been gathered


  • Assessing the perspective of the recipient of the information
  • Using effective methods of communication
  • Communicating complex information to an audience that may not be familiar with the concepts involved


  • Establishing a counseling relationship that respects the nature and boundaries of a lawyer’s role
  • Gathering information relevant to the decision to be made
  • Analyzing the decision to be made
  • Counseling the client about the decision to be made
  • Ascertaining and implementing the client’s decision


  • Preparing for negotiation
  • Conducting the negotiation session
  • Counseling the client about terms obtained from the other side in the negotiation; implementing the client’s decision
  • Litigation and alternative dispute resolution procedures
  • Knowledge of litigation procedures at the trial-court level
  • Knowledge of litigation procedures at the appellate-court level
  • Advocacy in administrative and executive forums
  • Proceedings in other dispute-resolution forums

Organization and Management of Legal Work

  • Formulating goals and principles for effective practice management
  • Developing systems and procedures that ensure that time, effort, and resources are allocated efficiently
  • Developing systems and procedures to ensure that work is performed and completed at the appropriate time
  • Developing systems and procedures for effectively working with other people

Recognizing and Resolving Ethical Dilemmas

  • Demonstrating familiarity with the nature and sources of ethical standards
  • Demonstrating a working knowledge of the means by which ethical standards are enforced, and the processes for recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas

This article has been adapted from materials prepared by Hastings College of the Law, Office of Career Services, and edited by Ruthe Catolico Ashley, McGeorge School of Law, Career Development Office. Ms. Ashley is the President of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
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