In addition to the seven years of school you need to put in before becoming a lawyer, you’ve got to excel in a range of skills and possess various personal qualities to succeed as an attorney. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more lawyers coming out of school these days than there are available openings. The field is only expected to grow by about 10 percent through 2020, so if you don’t have those personal qualities that will give you an edge, you may need to fine tune your credentials.
Like skilled athletes, lawyers need to have a passion for winning. There is almost always an opposing party that you’ll be dealing with, whether it’s the state when you represent an alleged criminal, a spouse in a divorce case or regulators going after your client for non-compliance. Winners typically are aggressive and unafraid to tackle difficult issues and barriers. You must be willing to give your clients the best representation possible and do everything in your power to win.
Effective lawyers usually are not emotional people. You’ve got to be able to separate your feelings from your thought processes, a trait that usually is inherent in your personality. You have to have the ability to think a problem through to its conclusion to build a case and then present that logic in a practical and logical way to a judge or jury. You’ve got to be able to think quickly on your feet in many circumstances, often without the time to consult your associates. You must enjoy a good argument and not take opposing remarks personally, because the job is not about you – it’s about your client.
Unlike some of the lawyers you see on TV who engage in rants and emotional outbursts, a successful attorney is self-controlled. Even if you’re nervous about your case or your confidence is waning, you’ve got to control those negative thoughts and present a clear, forceful argument in front of juries. When you’re the type of person who controls her emotions, you tend to think before you speak, a vital trait you’ll need when enduring the pressure of the courtroom.
As you’re moving through your research, taking depositions and interviewing clients, your case may take an unexpected turn. That’s a scenario you often see on a TV show that really does happen in real life. So even if you remain cool and collected, you have to be able to switch tactics or change course because your ultimate goal remains the same – win for your client. You also have to deal with constant changes and interruptions in your days at the office, where any new development can throw your carefully planned schedule out the window. Adapt you must – or you won’t get very far as a lawyer before you burn out.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."