Malta: Legal Firms Are Prioritizing Soft Skills

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Soft skills are critical for personal and company success. Qualifications are no longer enough.

Anyone giving the impression that honing soft skills are a millennial trend has either just landed or, desperate to impress. For having colleagues who work well with each other through highs and lows and who have a positive flexible attitude while performing well is what demarcates an effective and harmonious workplace from a dysfunctional one. Soft skills create a pleasant workplace that spurs on the ripple effect of enthusiastic productivity, which if not financially rewarded, will have companies lose their most precious asset. Legal firms are no exception plus as in any other industry they have to contend with comprehending the millennial mindset when recruiting them. This means a tech-savvy generation fully intent on clinching a better work life balance as well as a favorable remuneration. Consequently, flexi-time and working from home are not up for discussion but taken for granted.

Moving away from an authoritarian and static hierarchical structure is another significant millennial facet because today's young breed of lawyers values feedback, trust and transparency much more than their predecessors. Career prospects, financial compensation and the firm's culture and reputation are all vital concerns that motivate millennial lawyers. Openly ambitious they do not shy from making an immediate impression or move onto another legal firm that offers them a more rewarding experience.

While the net result is a more humane employer/employee relationship that is changing the traditional set-up of legal firms, there is no compromise on soft skills since these are the qualities that instantly impact both clients and colleagues. Although this pertains to any organization, legal firms need to be more exigent because each case (in/out of court) is highly dependent on them.  The umbrella of desirable features that complement knowledge, competence and experience fall into three essential overlapping elements: people skills, social skills and personal attributes. A thirst for knowledge, the ability to be practical, prioritize and meet strict deadlines, being emphatic where needs be, and the ability to work well on one's own initiative and within a group, are all soft skills which a young lawyer should aspire to have. 

What interweaves these fundamentals? The answer is an ability to understand, to assess, to communicate, to inspire respect – all with more than a sprinkle of politeness and poise. 

This is precisely what GM Corporate & Fiduciary Services Limited and its affiliate companies are keeping in mind as it welcomes more personnel on board. Apart from being an equal opportunity employer, our multi-national lawyers cuts across diverse age-groups and backgrounds which enable the organization to tap into a wide pool of diverse perceptions. Moreover, GMC takes pride in a dynamic growth mindset by encouraging a synchronization of creativity, flexibility, influence, efficiency, sound decision-making, collegiality and team-building. In addition, GMC periodically provides diversity and intercultural awareness raising training and uses inclusive, diversity-sensitive language in all official documents and publications, including adverts as well as adhering to a zero-tolerance policy as regard discriminatory, offensive or inappropriate behavior.

As rapid change squalls today's workplace and a tight labor market is turning recruitment into a nightmare, organizations are valuing skills over university degrees, consequently shifting their focus on what prospective employees can bring to the table. The same focus is also pivotal to staff development which is no longer a question of simply furthering studies to obtain better qualifications. While the list of hard skills reflects the surge towards an automated and augmented workplace, the way employees get things done, adapt, collaborate and make decisions makes or breaks both personal and company success.

The in-demand soft skills for lawyers

  1. Creativity

    Generating ideas and conceiving solutions demands an extraordinary emotional agility while thinking out-of-the-box. Apart from researching known cases, the best lawyers ask the best questions that appraise all possible angles. Reflection and brainstorming are also part of the equation which should be doubly encouraged among international desks. In today's globalized world this is ever more crucial since lawyers are often dealing with different cultural backgrounds. For as the famed Italian film director, Federico Fellini once affirmed: "A different language is a different vision of life."  Same goes for different age groups and genders. Edward Debono's concept of lateral thinking (first publicized in 1967) which shies away from classic vertical logic to problem solving combined with his 6 Thinking Hats (1985) also challenges lawyers to take a multifaceted and creative approach to problem solving.
  2.   Persuasion

    Winning over people's minds and hearts is the point at which a seal is put to a deal – meaning that no matter how great the product or concept, it needs a perfect sales pitch. Persuasion is fundamental to legal practice because rapport with clients has to be built on trust that in turn consolidates the firm's reputation.  The best lawyers make excellent communicators because they are silver tongued. Although some are lucky because it is innate, all lawyers learn the platonic rules of rhetoric because this is the art of effective communication, involving appeals to the audience and persuasive devices.  Persuasion is in fact the art of selling in both the commercial, political and propagandistic spheres. For this reason, it is much maligned. The good news, however, is that more millennials are adopting a more ethical and social conscious approach which is giving an edge to top-tier corporate lawyers. Aristotle's advice to stick to ethical persuasion ensures a serene spirit.
  3. Collaboration

    This is all about reaching out to people and dumping diva egos, traditionally notorious in legal set-ups.  Collaboration in legal organizations works on two planes:

    1. Internally where a client's request or case is immediately assigned to a team, often enabling junior lawyers to learn the ropes from their seniors; and
    2. Externally where advocates must seek the collaboration of other organizations to give the best possible advice and support to their clients.
    The bottom line is to remember that no one knows it all. Nor is anyone indispensable.
  4. Adaptability

    Flexibility is another sought after attribute because it is becoming even more complex in a globalized workplace.  All staff members need to remember that yesterday's solutions are unlikely to solve today's let alone tomorrow's problems. Indeed the onus on today's lawyers is for them to preempt problems before they happen precisely because the speed of digitization and artificial intelligence far outstrip the enacting of relevant legislation. The resulting grey areas therefore necessitate maximum adaptability. Having said that, simply scoffing at what is dated can turn out to be a costly mistake.  Adaptability also needs to be guarded against exploitation for there will always be shirkers.  For starters, directors and managers must lead by example while ensuring that everyone walks the talk.
  5. Time-management

    Prioritizing is the No, 1 requisite here closely followed by acquiring the discipline to ward off distractions and avoid burnout. This is absolutely essential in legal firms whose work is based on meeting strict deadlines. Delegating fair workloads is also a must. Significantly, a steady stream of studies is emerging showing that moving away from the traditional 8-hour work day boosts productivity. More and more companies are embracing short 10-15-minute breaks between tasks which refresh both mind and body since they are finally waking up to a well-known truth that spending more than an hour on the same task (especially when sitting down) eventually has level concentrations flag by the early afternoon and struggling to keep up an iota of enthusiasm. Other companies are going even further by introducing a 4-day week (without any pay cuts) in order to improve work/home balance. A sharp rise in productivity all round is the astounding result. Expect more radical change as tomorrow's intrapreneurs become mainstream.  
  6. Courtesy

    In a world gripped by the tyranny of relativism and schadenfreude, good manners are often given the thumbs down. Yet it does not take much to realize that politeness is the best lubricant in daily interaction. Taking the trouble to understand and discuss cultural differences further instills mutual respect. Once again, legal firms are no exception for aggressiveness creates toxic atmospheres. Being driven to succeed can never condone impoliteness and disrespect.

Where and how to learn soft skills?

One's upbringing and personal attributes are inevitably life-defining. Nevertheless, both nature and nurture foster soft skills. Today's easy access to online courses and webinars should be entrenched as periodic in-house training, and not merely utilized as a gap filler in a staff development exercise. Regular reading especially of literature with a capital 'L' will also help people go miles. Above all, cultivating a listening ear and looking at the world through the heart is what clinches cognitive and emotional intelligence – the ultimate bedrock of soft skills which no AI can ever totally replace.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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