Taking soft skills seriously

20 Oct 2015 | 4 min read

The SRA’s shift away from CPD to a new regime of Continuing Competence provides the perfect opportunity consider what it takes to succeed as a lawyer. This post will consider so-called ‘soft skills’ and why, as a legal professional, you cannot ignore them.

What are soft skills – and why should I care?

The term ‘soft skills’ is somewhat elusive and can be difficult to define. It is most easily explained in the negative: those skills beyond the technical (hard) skills required for a role. Such skills range from effective listening to time management. Yet, despite the difficulty in pinning down the definition of soft skills, they are highly important: a recent report pegged the value of such skills to the UK economy at a whopping £88bn.

Within the legal profession, the SRA has acknowledged this value by including soft skills in its Competence Statement, which sets out competence requirements for all solicitors. In fact, whilst technical skills form one area of competence, soft skills comprise the remaining three: ethics, professionalism and judgment; working with other people; and managing yourself and others. The SRA’s message is clear: technical skills alone are insufficient to succeed as a lawyer – to be competent, you must have soft skills.

However, soft skills are important for lawyers not only for the purpose of being declared professionally competent, but also because they add genuine value for those who are looking to develop a successful legal career. Explaining why soft skills are so important for lawyers and their firms, Beth Pipe – Business Skills Trainer at Cumbrian Rambler Ltd – notes:

Law firms don’t make grommets or gadgets or widgets, they provide a vital service to their clients and their employees are the raw material.  Those employees need to be supported, directed and developed in order to continually deliver a first class service to a client group which is becoming increasing fickle.  It’s no longer enough to simply “be a great lawyer”; these days you need to develop a range of business skills to complement your legal knowledge and enable you to deliver the service that your clients, your colleagues and your team really deserve.

Developing the skills that allow you to deliver this ‘first class service’ is not limited to professionals of a particular seniority. Whilst it may be appropriate to focus on honing different skills at different stages of your career in accordance with the needs of your role, it is always beneficial to work on improving your soft skills. Much of what you learn will prepare you for future roles – don’t wait until you become a partner to develop client relationship skills!

What can I do?

Understanding the value of soft skills for your career is important, but ultimately pointless if you don’t take the steps to develop them. Unlike technical skills, soft skills are less knowledge based and are largely honed through practical experience. Nevertheless, there is an educational element to improving these skills. As a first step, therefore, it is worth seeking out some form of training that will help you to identify how to improve your soft skills in practice.

Fortunately, there are a wide range of training options available. Under the new Continuing Competence regime all forms of training, from face-to-face to online, have been placed on an equal footing. Additionally, the Management Course Stage 1 was made voluntary from April 2015. In this respect, the SRA has recognised and allowed for greater flexibility in the way in which lawyers undertake training, including for training that relates to soft skills. This means that you are able to choose training that best suits your needs.

Once you have invested the time in learning some tips for soft skills best practice, it is crucial to try to implement real-life changes. It is only through such practise that you will ultimately be able to develop these skills, and you may also find it helpful to review your progress.

To succeed as a lawyer, knowledge is no longer enough. Have you taken the time to consider how you might develop your soft skills?

LexisNexis has recently launched a series of Personal Skills webinars, tackling topics from Communication Skills to Effective Project Management. We are also able to arrange similar training in-house, to provide a bespoke solution for your training needs. If you would like more information on our webinars or in-house training, please email webinars@lexisnexis.co.uk.

See also on the Future of Law: From CPD to Continuing Competence vlog

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