Published in the Tuesday September 18, 2019 edition of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

What sets successful lawyers apart? Maybe, in some cases, it is sharp legal skills and tight billing practices. However, I believe success in the competitive business side of law, especially when attracting clients and expanding networks, is often due to strong soft skills.

Soft skills are the non-legal, non-accounting and often non-quantifiable tools in your briefcase.

You probably are already aware of what these skills might be: compassion, creativity, collaboration, humor and so forth. There are too many to list. Instead of attempting to go through all of them in a single article, I will take a look at five skills: modesty, confidence, consistency, personability and adaptability.

These have all been helpful to me as I have progressed through my career as a certified public accountant, tax attorney and divorce lawyer.

Taking a personal inventory of these traits and fine-tuning them to work for you can help you grow your practice. Of course, please take this as my own opinion on the topic, rather than as advice on a specific situation.

Modesty

In our quest for clients, we often highlight our laundry list of accomplishments. Married with the fact clients are often intimidated by lawyers, we need to be aware of the potential for appearing arrogant.

Making modesty a trait you strive for will make you more relatable to clients. Work on valuing people and their experiences. Listen to their stories, keep an open mind and find something you can learn from them.

Modesty has applications outside of client interactions as well, such as for managing associates in an office setting. Showing some modesty about your own managerial responsibilities to the firm may help in several ways, such as helping everyone understand the reasons you are in a leadership position and promoting camaraderie.

Confidence

You might be surprised that confidence follows modesty in this list. However, I think the two work together very well, each keeping the other in check. I am proud of my education and experience as a lawyer. I also try to view these as things I can use to be of service to people — not as attributes that make me automatically deserve a potential client’s trust or business.

I believe there are two sides of confidence to master: The trust I have in myself and the amount of trust I can generate in others. To be able to communicate confidence to your market, I suggest identifying the things you are most proud of, such as your case results, persuasive abilities, legal knowledge and so forth.

Then, you need to determine which of those things are viewed as important to your potential client base. Finally, heavily incorporate those commonalities into your practice’s marketing, or your own personal brand, to drive client confidence and increase new client activity.

Consistency

Speaking of branding, consistency in communication can contribute to the effectiveness of your marketing strategies. You have several potential ways to interact these days, such as telephone calls, text-message conversations, face-to-face conferences and social media posts.

It is easy to fall into a different style of communication for each. Cultivating consistency is the basis of creating your brand — an idea of your professional practice people can get to recognize, know and trust. Provide a consistent experience across all the informal communications tools you use in your professional practice: your blog, phone calls, text messages, emails and so forth.

Personability

Personability is, in a general sense, how easy it is for people to interact with you. The good news is you do not have to be a great orator — or even an extrovert — to cultivate this combination of persuasiveness, charm and tact. Part of becoming personable is learning how to work a room, but it also is about treating people like human beings.

One way to cultivate this skill is simply to put yourself out there. Practice engaging people when interacting in one-on-one situations. Be an active listener; convey both verbal and nonverbal cues to let the other person know you are interested.

To portray your personality from a marketing perspective, get a professional photo for your website. Adopt a friendly tone in your marketing materials and generally make an effort to connect with people. These actions all show you are ready to interact on a human level, as well as act as a legal adviser.

Adaptability

One of the most important soft skills is the ability to adapt. Some hard skills complement this, for example, research proficiency helps lawyers stay informed of changes in the law. However, this is not just about being ready to shift your operations. You also have to know exactly when you need to break routine in order to increase your chances of success. Adaptability is the what, when and how of thinking outside of the box.

This skill is much easier to talk about than it is to practice. Work on learning how to actually adjust to changes. This can be accomplished by accepting change, developing strategies for dealing with unknown and contingent variables and modifying your behavior to accommodate new situations.

Hard skills or soft skills?

Legal writing, researching, analyzing, crafting persuasive arguments and interpreting statutes are inarguably important to all lawyers pursuing successful outcomes for their clients. However, I believe soft skills have the power to support, facilitate and amplify success.

Why are these skills so important? The bottom line is this: Practicing the law is about people, as well as logic and rhetoric.

Soft skills are fundamental business tools that promote success when dealing with people. Practicing them has the power to increase client satisfaction, avoid conflict, promote trust and generate glowing referrals — things that benefit every law practice out there.