Soft Skills for the Effective Lawyer
by Randall Kiser
Soft Skills for the Effective Lawyer is written by Randall Kiser, an internationally recognized authority on attorney performance who has written for the New York Times and the Harvard Negotiation Law Review. The 316- page book is published by Cambridge University Press. This book switched on a light bulb inside my mind and revamped many of my thoughts concerning clients and the real-world practice of law. So often in school we are trained to be cold, dispassionate, and analytical.
I believe the legal system itself lends attorneys to behaving and thinking in a super-analytical and sometimes dispassionate manner. Lawyers are required by judges to keep their clients “under control.” We have to stop clients from saying or doing things that may harm themselves or their cases. In the process, we sometimes lose empathy and forget what our clients are thinking and feeling.
Soft Skills for the Effective Lawyer details a list of important qualities that clients look for in their attorneys. It made me analyze my own behavior and see if there are some things I can change to better aid and better suit my clients.
By the end of the book, I was able to develop new methods for tackling common problems that I routinely experience in dealing with difficult clients. According to the studies referenced within the book itself, one of the top qualities that all clients want in an attorney is a “good communicator.”
Ideal attorneys, according to the studies within the book, are attorneys who advocate for their client’s interests, possess effective lawyering skills, work hard on their client’s cases, keep clients informed about their cases, care about the clients, are honest, and obtain favorable outcomes.
One of the main differences between successful attorneys and less successful attorneys appears to be caring about what you do. The studies in the book found that “star” attorney performers appear to score considerably higher on the emotional competencies, which include characteristics such as empathy, stress management, optimism, social responsibility, and self-actualization.
One last and curious concept is the mention within the book of a Harvard study that demonstrated that the best negotiators are attorneys who adopt a cooperative, problem solving style rather than an aggressive competitive style. When negotiators attempt to maximize their clients own return and enhance an opponent’s interests, attorneys are more likely to obtain better settlement terms for their clients. This study was conducted by Charles Craver, a law professor who taught negotiation for approximately 40 years.
Overall, I rate this book as extremely helpful to the practitioner who wants to excel in client satisfaction and a more effective personal touch with their clients.