10 Essential Soft Skills Needed for Career Success


“Soft Skills” is one of today’s most used buzz phrases.  What are soft skills?

To understand soft skills, it is helpful to define hard skills. Hard skills are trade skills and subject matter expertise, like programming, accounting, research, writing, keyboarding, and investigative skills that you need to perform your job. These are generally learned through education and provide career opportunities.

Soft skills aren’t so easy to define. I liken this to efforts to define the practice of law: everyone has a different (and often vague) definition.  Generally soft skills are personality traits and people skills, including social graces, communication, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism.

You may be the best attorney, paralegal, legal assistant, or legal secretary on the planet and possess excellent hard skills but without soft skills your career might go nowhere.

There is a plethora of information on the Internet about soft skills with anywhere from 4 to 60 listed by various individuals. Sixty is a bit daunting!

The Essential Top Ten. In my opinion, gleaned from my own experience working in the legal profession, there are 10 soft skills legal professionals must possess, though their order of importance may vary from job to job:

1) Good communication skills.  Are you verbally articulate? Are you a good listener? Are you able to state your case and express your needs in a way that makes a positive connection with your colleagues?

2) Time management capabilities.  Are you able to prioritize your work and use your time wisely?  Are you able to multi-task (juggle!) a number of projects at one time?

3) Problem solving skills. Problems will inevitably arise. Do you possess the skills necessary to solve them? Do you tackle problems instead of leaving them for someone else to unravel?

4) Strong work ethic. Will you be at work on time? Are you motivated to do your best work and get the job done, no matter what?

5) Positive attitude. Do you have a “can do” spirit? Do you generate upbeat energy and good will? Are you optimistic?

6) Team player. Do you work well in groups? Are you cooperative? Do you value other people’s opinions or do you think your way is always best? Do you take on leadership roles when appropriate?

7) Self-confidence. Do you believe in yourself and your abilities? Do you project a sense of calm and inspire others to have confidence in you? Do you have the courage to express your ideas and to ask suitable questions?

8) Accept (and learn from) criticism. Do you view warranted criticism as a learning experience? Are you open to listening to constructive ideas that will help you grow as a professional and as a person?

9) Flexible and adaptable. Do you embrace change and new challenges? Are you open to new ideas? Are you able to adapt to new situations?

10) Work well under pressure and stress. Pressure and stress are hallmarks of the legal profession. Are you able to do your best work when you are up against a deadline? Can you come through in an emergency situation?

This list may change. This list, as well as the priority of each soft skill, may change with each firm you’re with, with each human resource director, or with each hiring partner. One thing is certain: work in the legal arena is being done at an increasingly fast pace so employers need people who possess these essential soft skills…and they may have additional soft skill requirements.

You have to (truthfully) assess your soft skills. Don’t be concerned if you lack some of them.  Most of us don’t possess all of them but everyone is capable of acquiring them.

The important thing is to understand why these soft skills are important to your career success and then ask yourself – what soft skills do you already possess and which do you need to develop next?

© 2015 Vicki Voisin, Inc.  Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it:

Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She is the co-author of The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success. Vicki publishes Paralegal Strategies, a weekly e-newsletter for paralegals, and hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network.

More information is available at paralegalmentor.com where subscribers receive Vicki’s 151 Tips for Your Career Success.