The 25 Most Important Lawyering Skills?

In discussing bar exam reform in my earlier post, I referenced the results of this job analysis survey of newly licensed attorneys. The attorneys, all in practice for three years or less, were asked to rate the significance to their jobs of various skills or abilities (e.g., legal reasoning, organizational skills, written communication) and various knowledge domains (e.g., Rules of Evidence, Contract Law, Rules of Civil Procedure). Ever since I first saw the results, I have been taken with one particular statistic: The respondents rated 25 different skills or abilities as more significant to their jobs than the highest rated knowledge domain.

After the results came out, I looked more closely at these 25 skills and organized them into five broader skill categories. (My chart, which includes all 25 skills and each one’s average rating on a scale of 1 to 4, is below.) I then led a discussion on the importance of all of this to legal education at a legal writing conference last spring. Some of the colleagues in attendance offered insightful and practical comments that I’d like to share here.

One suggested that the 25 skills are a good starting point for formulating a new course to satisfy the ABA’s expanded practical skills requirement in the new Standard 303(a)(3). Others suggested that my chart, or something akin to it, could be a means for identifying and measuring learning outcomes for “other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession” under Standard 302(d), or additional learning outcomes under Interpretation 302-2.

I hope that many in legal education will find this chart, my colleagues’ ideas, and the overall survey results to be valuable tools. And, if anyone has feedback on how to revise the chart to make it a more useful tool, please get in touch.

Communication Analysis Research Project Management Professionalism
Written communication 3.77 Critical reading & comprehension 3.55 Computer skills 3.28 Paying attention to details 3.67 Professionalism 3.58
Listening 3.60 Synthesizing facts & law 3.55 Electronic researching 3.26 Using office technologies 3.56 Judgment 3.29
Oral communication 3.58 Legal reasoning 3.54 Fact gathering & evaluation 3.22 Knowing when to go back & ask ?s 3.46 Diligence 3.26
Interpersonal skills 3.44 Issue spotting 3.43 Organizational skills
Answering questions succinctly 3.30 Information integrating 3.10 Working within established time constraints 3.44  
Advocacy 3.24 Decisiveness 3.31
Consciousness of limitations 3.15
Planning & strategizing 3.13


4 Responses

  1. Thanks Ben. This is a very helpful synthesis of the information from the NCBE study.

  2. Great table, Ben!

    I would guess that part of the score difference between skills and knowledge domains is that those skills are fairly universally valuable to lawyers, whereas knowledge domains are probably more attorney-specific. That could lead to survey respondents more consistently scoring general skills highly while each attorney varied as to scoring knowledges. I read your prior post as suggesting something similar.

    For example, a tax litigator, an in-house counsel contract attorney, and a transactional IP attorney might all score written communication highly, whereas each of them might score their respective areas of law highly while scoring the other areas lower.

    But that doesn’t change that these skills identified in the table are more consistently used, which makes them excellent guiding lights for, among other things, designing a 303(a)(3) experiential learning course.

  3. This is a helpful framing of these results, and I think it has a wide variety of potential uses. I would think the Teaching Methodologies Committee of the AALS Clinical Section would be interested in this. They might perhaps seek out student interns, fellows, or others who could turn the data into a variety of charts and other tools that experiential and more traditional law teachers could use.

  4. […] tip to Professor Ben Bratman of Albany for discussing this report in his recent post on bar-exam and legal-ed reform. Analyzing the results of the survey, Professor Bratman organized […]

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