Teaching Soft Skills in a Type-A Profession

By Ashley Bond, CFCC Student Fellow 2015-2016

“Once you get out of law school, you’ll realize that you never learned a thing about how to be a lawyer.  You just learned the law.”  My supervising attorney stated this during my first legal internship.  At the time, I knew that he was referring to such topics as “how to write a pleading” and “how to run your own practice.”  Now, however, I’ve begun to interpret his words with a new meaning.  Law schools may also be lacking in the subject of soft skills.

Throughout my time in law school, I have often heard classmates describe themselves or other colleagues as “Type-A.”  This term, coined by Friedman and Rosenman, describes people with personality traits such as competitiveness, time urgency, and hostility. [1] There is no doubt that many of these characteristics are extremely beneficial in the practice of the law.  In fact, the kind of work ethic exhibited by a Type-A personality is praised in such a competitive field.  When preparing for a career in which one is of service to their clients, shouldn’t other skills be emphasized?  Perhaps law schools would better prepare their graduates if they required each student to take a “soft skills” course.

Soft skills include the patience necessary to listen to a frantic client, the empathy necessary to understand your client’s viewpoint, and the communication skills necessary to convey complex legal concepts to an emotional client who may not understand a thing about the law.   These are skills that for some may come naturally but for others may take practice.  They are skills that often clash with Type-A personality traits.

Studies show that the top-performing lawyers have higher competencies than other lawyers in areas such as stress management, self-knowledge, problem solving, and interpersonal competencies. [2] Additionally, practicing lawyers consider soft skills as essential to lawyering as legal skills.  [3]   If this is true, shouldn’t law schools emphasize these skills, as well?

The Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) Student Fellows Program takes this approach at the University of Baltimore School of Law.  Professor Barbara Babb and CFCC staff teach each Student Fellow to utilize our soft skills when speaking to Baltimore City public school students participating in CFCC’s Truancy Court Program.  As a member of the Truancy Court Program team, I look forward to using this experience to develop my soft skills.  Further, I urge other law students to join the Student Fellows Program, or any other similar program, to help them develop their soft skills.

[1] Type A Personality


[2] The Soft Skills of Lawyering.


[3]  Id.

4 thoughts on “Teaching Soft Skills in a Type-A Profession

  1. I completely agree with this! Especially, “When preparing for a career in which one is of service to their clients, shouldn’t other skills be emphasized? Perhaps law schools would better prepare their graduates if they required each student to take a “soft skills” course.” We go through three years of law school, learning the ‘Black Letter Law,’ and except for internships (and often times in internships one will never meet with a client), our exposure to soft skill building is limited because of the role an intern or clerk plays. It is challenging to build these skills and takes time. For some student, I think soft skills come intuitively, yet may need some honing. But for many who are Type A, or who are introverted, soft skills need to be consistently worked on. None of us are perfect.

    I think that there should be much more emphasis on the skill building classes like Interviewing, Negotiation and Counseling, Mediation Skills, even requiring the CFCC or a similar class where the idea of soft skills are introduced. Not to digress completely, but an interesting comparison I read about recently was in regards to a former law school called Antioch, which was located in DC ( It is now the District of Columbia School of Law), and it was an apprenticeship school. Not only were the students required to live with an impoverished family for the first month of 1L, but the students acted essentially as the Public Defender service. Students were working in the courts from day one of school, and could develop soft skills from the start.

    Soft skills are something that will make us all practice ready and benefit our abilities to understand, sympathize and work with clients.


  2. I agree that soft skills are definitely required to be successful as an attorney, especially if you plan to work with families. I had the opportunity to begin developing my soft skills over the summer during my internship with a local attorney. However, I still don’t have even 1/4 of the experience and practice I will need in order to be helpful to families when I begin practicing law. I am truly appreciative to have the opportunity to be a CFCC Fellow so that I can further develop skills such as empathetic listening. I also hope to better understand how non-legal issues can impact a family’s legal issues.

  3. Ashley,

    I could not agree more! I believe soft skills are an ESSENTIAL key to a successful career, more specifically, to the legal profession. Early in my law school education, I encountered several classmates who proved very intelligent but lacked one ingredient: soft skills. Knowledge without knowing how to convey, empathize, or utilize is ineffective. As you mentioned, after 3 years of law school many students exit into the profession without any experience or knowledge as to how to channel the law they have spent years studying, memorizing, and understanding. I think understanding and appreciating the balance between knowledge and soft skills is crucial to a successful attorney.

    As a Student Fellow with the CFCC, soft skills are essential when engaging with clients, more specifically, younger students, as you do in the Truancy Court Program. I agree with Jordan and Amanda, there should be more emphasis on soft skill training. Perhaps the training could be required through a program -such as CFCC- or similar class during our years in law school.

    Great post!


  4. A lot of attorneys I’ve met have referred to these skills in practice as a certain “innate touch,” but I think it’s something that simply requires an openness and commitment to listen (not just hear), make information accessible, and recognize your own limitations in really trying to understand where someone is coming from. This requires training and practice. And it takes hard work. But, ultimately, it’s about having respect for clients as human beings. And I think it says something about the legal profession and the academy of law school that these skills are far too often neglected or perceived as “soft” – somehow less legitimate or less valuable than a traditional legal education. In many ways, it feeds into lawyer stereotypes that threaten a collective public faith in the justice system.

    Law schools also need to be reformed to foster creativity. Lawyers and policymakers have to be innovative in developing solutions for the problems facing our societies. I would argue that some of these problems have persisted because we continue to educate and motivate, at the highest levels, in a way that deters or strips students of their creative souls. The Socratic Method, CREAC or IRAC writing structure and the law school curve are just a few examples of how law schools educate students out of their creativity. By integrating art and culture in law school curricula, students will be better equipped to relate and empathize with clients using cultural competence, find creative solutions to legal and non-legal problems, transforming the legal profession as it seeks to challenge old laws and shape new public policy. Community-based academic components, like that of the Truancy Court Program, are an important step in this direction.

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