What Qualities Define a Skilled Lawyer?

As humans, we naturally strive to excel in our endeavors. From the simplest tasks to the most complex, we constantly evaluate our abilities, performance, and outcomes. Singing, sports, academics – we frequently question our proficiency. Lawyers, too, constantly question themselves, both in practice and prospective law students should do the same. Consider the key attributes that make a good attorney. Reflect on whether these traits describe you presently or contemplate what you need to cultivate within yourself to become a skilled lawyer.

The Essence of a Competent Lawyer

Before delving into what constitutes a good lawyer, let’s first define the criteria we should consider. While developing technical skills, comprehending case law, and learning how to practice law are essential aspects of becoming a competent lawyer, they are also part of the educational process. So, what truly defines a good lawyer? Is it measured by the income they generate or the number of cases they win? Not at all. These factors may be outcomes of being an exceptional attorney, but they do not accurately measure the quality of their work. Success is often beyond our control, but being good is within our reach.

Let’s explore the behaviors and characteristics that exemplify good lawyers, earning them the trust and respect of their clients and peers.

A Lawyer’s Essential Skills

To be a good lawyer, it is imperative to possess and develop the following four skills:

1. Effective Communication

While we may be captivated by TV lawyers delivering dazzling, emotional arguments in court, it is more often the everyday communication of an attorney that sets them apart as exceptional. Here are some key components of effective communication:

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Listening Attentively

Listening is fundamental to excelling in your legal career. Understanding your cases necessitates actively listening to your clients, opposing counsel, witnesses, and the court. Pay attention not only to what is said but also to what is left unsaid. Actively listening will provide you with insights into motivations, negotiation opportunities, and potential strategies. Through attentive listening, you can weave together the details that form the core of your argument.

Timely Responsiveness

Although it may seem obvious, consistently responding promptly to the court, other attorneys, and clients sets you apart as a diligent lawyer. It is easy to become less proactive and responsive than you realize due to a busy schedule. Establish practices that ensure your reputation as a highly responsive attorney.

Persuasive and Concise Expression

As a lawyer, the majority of your time will be spent communicating in various forms, be it written or spoken. It is crucial to articulate concise, persuasive messages. Avoid including unnecessary details that could distract the audience from your intended message. Too many details might confuse or imply disorganization in the structure of your arguments.

2. Cultivating Passion and Drive

Becoming an attorney is not for the faint of heart. You must be prepared for the demanding workload as a student and the challenges of balancing personal and academic life. The practice of law is equally demanding. Here’s how you can maintain your passion:

Remember Your Motivation

It is essential to remind yourself of your initial vision or core motivation for pursuing a career in law. The daily routine can cause you to lose sight of your original purpose. Returning to your vision can help refocus your energy and provide the strength to endure the toughest times. Take a moment to write down your motivation and keep it close by for frequent reference.

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Find an Outlet

Having a creative outlet outside of the legal field is crucial for preventing burnout. Engaging in activities such as gardening, sports, or art can serve as a release valve and help you maintain your drive as a lawyer.

Prioritize Health

Your schedule as a lawyer may often be unpredictable, with competing demands pulling you in different directions. Prioritizing a healthy lifestyle, which includes proper nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient rest, is crucial for maintaining focus and being the best lawyer you can be.

3. Exercising Judgement

One of the most critical skills for lawyers is the ability to exercise sound judgment, both on behalf of themselves and their clients. For example, as an attorney, sometimes the best decision you can make is choosing not to take on a case. Here are some elements of good judgment:

Comfort with Limited Information

In most cases, you will have to work with limited data and incomplete perspectives. Developing strategies and making recommendations in such scenarios requires the ability to analyze situations, synthesize significant data, filter out irrelevant facts, and form opinions despite missing information.

Conducting Risk Analysis

The advice, recommendations, and options you provide your clients can have life-changing consequences. Anticipating potential risks and benefits of various legal actions enhances your ability to serve your clients effectively.


Your work as a lawyer does not exist in a vacuum. Rapid responses are often required, and the ability to process information quickly and provide timely advice is essential. People can be unpredictable, and unforeseen actions can arise that demand immediate attention.

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The best attorneys possess an insatiable desire for information. This might involve asking thought-provoking questions or conducting thorough research. This curiosity drives good lawyers to delve into details, research extensively, and constantly evaluate case law. Ultimately, your opinion must be supported by facts uncovered through your diligence.

4. Operating with Empathy

Empathy is a crucial element in the practice of law. By utilizing empathy, lawyers can gain insights that mere facts alone may not reveal. The following are strategies to incorporate empathy into your legal practice:

Considering Different Perspectives

As lawyers, we must approach each case with a healthy dose of skepticism. No story is entirely accurate, and no perspective provides a complete picture. Developing the ability to consider various viewpoints within a case enables us to generate new concepts and gain a deeper understanding of the facts. Constructing a comprehensive narrative that incorporates multiple perspectives can yield valuable insights.

Humility in Practice

Legal work combines both art and science. Good attorneys are skilled at separating themselves from their work, allowing them to analyze cases objectively. It is common for lawyers with extensive experience to recall winning cases they expected to lose and losing cases they believed were certain victories. Staying humble and maintaining empathy while explaining to clients why certain options may not be advisable demonstrates your dedication to serving them effectively.

Thinking Creatively

The ability to empathize is closely connected to identifying creative solutions. Each client, as well as opposing counsel, has their own goals, objectives, and concerns. By understanding what matters most to them, you can think outside the box to craft unexpected solutions.

As of 2020, there were approximately 1,328,692 active attorneys in the United States, working alongside 334 million people, numerous government agencies, businesses, non-profits, and more. Clearly, we do not need more lawyers, but rather more skilled ones. For those of us heeding the call to practice law, committing to becoming exceptional lawyers who serve our clients diligently is both the right thing to do and a way to distinguish ourselves.

For more insights into the world of law and legal practice, visit Garrity Traina.