The Components Of Lawyer Competence – Part Two
The licensing structures of most, if not all, state bars do not necessarily assess all the various and minimum aspects of lawyer competence. Research suggests that essay and multiple-choice exams with stressful time constraints are neither satisfactory nor effective formats for measuring competence as these tests truly simulate nothing close to the practice of law
The components of lawyer competence include both hard and soft skills. The former include the substantive knowledge of the law while the latter represent analytical and interpersonal skills necessary in all walks of life. The following addresses components of minimum competence that are “softer” than “harder” regarding the skill components of lawyer competence.
The ability to interact effectively with clients
One day you are attending law school surrounded by few other than your fellow students and the next you are meeting with strangers for whom you want to provide services. This is a major change for many young lawyers and former law students to be thrust into the business world with little or no experience dealing with the public and clients.
Many legal scholars believe that not only do new lawyers require more than just people skills, but they also require the ability to interact with clients in a “lawyerly” way that shows credibility and instills confidence.
The ability to see the “big picture”
Some new lawyers struggle to see their clients’ problems in the proper perspective and overcomplicate the matter at hand. Clients want results and attorneys must focus on delivering these results. Hand-in-hand with this is the ability to manage cases and guide client matters. The knowing of legal rules and procedures is useless without the ability to strategically apply them for the benefit of clients.
The ability to act professionally
Many new lawyers have stated that while they studied the rules of professional conduct in law school and for the bar exam, they still struggled to apply these rules in practice and had difficulty navigating unethical or unprofessional behavior by other attorneys.
The ability to responsibly manage a lawyer’s caseload
The failure of attorneys to manage their caseloads effectively may irrevocably harm clients, which may eventually cause the end of an attorney’s career. Careful time management, meticulous organization, and effective collaboration are essential components of competent practice.
The ability to cope with stress caused by the practice of law
In addition to the stress of a caseload is the stress related to the responsibility for the interests of clients. One young attorney described this as “the weight of the world.” Being a competent lawyer requires the ability to cope effectively with stress to ensure attorney well-being and client satisfaction.
The ability to engage in self-directed learning
For young lawyers who attended a more traditional law school that primarily taught the substantive law and little else, many new lawyers were quite surprised by the lack of training and supervision they received in their first years of practice. Many were forced to navigate new practice areas and acquire new skills without any human assistance. Young attorneys often must take control of their own learning and gain proficiency at becoming self-educated, yet another crucial component of an attorney’s minimal competence.
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