Soft skills are a collection of personality traits, communication abilities, and inherent social graces. From Magic Circle to Big4, the soft skills that the employers look for in trainees include:
- Relationship building and networking
- Commercial awareness
- Leadership; and
Traditionally, soft skills supplemented hard skills and were desirable, at best. However, with the advent of automation, the importance of soft skills is ever increasing. In a future where 3D printers will be constructing our houses, and robots performing increasingly complex tasks that only humans could accomplish before, soft skills will be what sets us apart.
For those of us looking to work in the legal sector, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has also placed particular importance on such skills. The Authority released a Statement of Solicitor Competence[i] which provides a new approach to continuing competence by way of mastering soft skills. For a legal professional, it is fundamental to fulfill the competencies set out in the Statement. A failure to do so might lead to a breach of the requirement to provide a proper standard of service to the clients according to Principle 5 of the SRA Principles 2011.[ii]
Although it is possible to develop these skills, what is beyond doubt is that they are hard to acquire. It takes years of experience and training. Hence, it would be justifiable to refer to them as ‘hard skills’. This is not to say that soft skills can replace vocational skills, but they can definitely carry the same weight.
The good news is that there are several hidden opportunities for students to evaluate and develop their skills. Some of them are listed below:
- Join societies and clubs
It is a great way to meet like-minded people and grow your network. Your active participation in legal events will display your enthusiasm towards law. During legal talks and moots, you will be able to speak to legal professionals. As seen in the past, some students have even been able to secure work experience from this kind of networking alone. And most importantly, remember, this is relatively a safe space to test your skills.
All university societies also elect their Student Committees every academic year. Take the opportunity and showcase your leadership skills. Being a part of a law society myself, I got a chance to organise a 2-day conference and that has been the highlight in most of my job interviews. Such experiences will help you develop communication, teamwork and organisational skills.
2. Take up a part-time job
Whether you want to work as a student advisor or in the hospitality business, every job will help you develop key skills. Working at a pizzeria during my undergraduate degree made me realise the importance of customer service and enhance communication skills. It further helped me demonstrate that I could manage my time and prioritise accordingly. This is key when working in a legal environment as a trainee.
Also, do not give up unpaid jobs. Employers tend to give equal importance to both paid and unpaid jobs. Taking up voluntary work shows that you are a passionate and motivated individual.
3. Enroll in extracurricular classes
When it comes to extracurricular activities, there is an array of options. It’s not just limited to sports or art, but some universities allow students to do ‘wild’ modules. A wild module is where you choose to study a module from a school other than yours. These modules help you earn credits towards your degree. For instance, I learned German as a foreign language in my second year of LLB Hons. In my third year, I decided to take on Digital Photography and Image editing as another wild module. Consider this as your chance to experiment.
This will add additional skills to your CV and make you stand out. Besides, you will demonstrate adaptability in a professional environment.
4. Pro bono and charity work
While you’re studying, pro bono serves as a good opportunity to put your knowledge to practice. A starting point would be to approach your university or local Law Clinic. You can also sign up as an advisor for the Citizens Advice Bureau. It will provide you with exceptional experience with client contact, interviews and drafting skills.
Despite it being voluntary, you need to be committed to the job. In other words, students who get involved show a greater level of commitment. Pro bono work might also illustrate teamwork, flexibility, and dedication amongst other transferable skills. And don’t forget, you’re also benefitting the society.
Actively attending networking events is an integral part of a successful career. You will find it extremely advantageous in terms of making contacts. Be open, ask questions and take every opportunity to liaise with speakers or attendees. It can be daunting at first, but it is all about stepping outside your comfort zone. The more you network, the more naturally it will come to you.
These events will help you grow both professionally and personally. Eventually, you will start seeing yourself as a people person. Such a skill will potentially help you secure clients for your firm and will go a long way in your legal career.
[i] <http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/competence-statement.page> accessed 14 August 2018
[ii] <https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/handbook/handbookprinciples/part2/content.page> accessed 14 August 2018