Top 10 tips on how to be an unfeasibly successful commercial lawyer

Top 10 tips on how to be an unfeasibly successful commercial lawyer

Lawyers spend an inordinate amount of their training learning the black letter of the law—the hard skills of practice. They often think that so-called soft skills are undeserving of their attention.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Your client—whether it be in-house or in private practice—will take technical competence as a given. You should be more than just a walking law book spouting out legal titbits like some soulless cyborg. If you are a commercial lawyer, it is increasingly the case that your client will expect you to act more like a businessman or woman, albeit it one with a solid background in the law and with certain professional obligations.

The other day, I spoke with James Harper, the in-house Head of Legal for LexisNexis UK, to see what tips he could offer to lawyers—both new and old—to fine-tune these soft skills. Here are his top ten tips (as translated by me): 

  • Be curious. Frankly, life is somewhat dull if you don’t take an interest in what goes on around you. The same could be said for business. Get to know the business that you advise and the key people within it. The ‘who, what, where, why and how’ of it all. We are not talking Mastermind territory here, but enough to properly understand what is going on. This is easier for in-house lawyers of course, but even lawyers in private practice can usually improve in this area.  Never accept 'that’s our policy' as an answer without understanding what the policy is, why it is in place and if there is room to change it—you’ll often be surprised! Learning this will make your arguments more convincing or enable you to find innovative routes to getting a deal done.
  • Be an enabler not an obstructer. The ‘computer says no’ school of lawyering is not going to build you a successful career in the long run (or short or medium run for that matter), nor is it going to help the business

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