For law students: summer evaluations and listening

Name a skill that summer employers may or may not evaluate directly, but that can enhance performance on every skill they do evaluate.

Yes, it’s listening.

Most obviously, listening is relevant to the soft skills most employers are likely to evaluate. But listening also influences “harder” skills such as research and writing. And listening is certainly an aspect of a law student’s overall potential as a lawyer.

Soft skills

Soft skills are basically anything associated with the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.”  Legal employers may evaluate soft skills in categories such as professionalism, courtesy, and general presence, just to name a few. Here are some examples of listening behaviors that may lead to strong evaluations of soft skills:

  • Never looking at your phone while talking with another attorney or client without a convincing explanation (e.g., “Excuse me for one moment. I’m waiting for partner x to let me know if I can attend the deposition right after this lunch.”)
  • Strong listening during any opportunities to observe events such as mediations and depositions (e.g. asking a senior attorney afterwards, “I noticed that the witness kept qualifying her statements with the words ‘as I sit here.’ Does that language mean something specific?”)
  • Active listening during lunch with a mentor (E.g., “You mentioned that your first year in practice was really challenging. What was hard for you?”)
  • Respectful behavior and body language during the evaluation process, especially with any constructive criticisms (e.g. keeping arms gently resting in one’s lap during a discussion of how an assignment could have been stronger)

Hard skills

Listening indirectly influences performance of hard skills such as fact-gathering and research and writing. Here are some examples of listening behaviors that may lead to strong evaluations of hard skills:

  • Noticing and asking about important information that a supervising attorney forgot to mention, such as the desired format for an assignment
  • Discerning what an assigning attorney’s word choice indicates about whether he or she thinks the assignment should be relatively easy or hard
  • Taking notes effectively during a meeting so that follow-up questions are kept to a minimum
  • Observing and understanding a fact witness’s body language and asking questions that follow up on an area where the witness may be hesitant to share information

Lawyering potential

Professors Marjorie Schultz and Sheldon Zedeck have generated a list of 26 “lawyering effectiveness” factors. These factors provide a useful outline of what makes a lawyer effective; thus, law students who show potential in these areas are showing potential to be an effective practicing lawyer. Listening is explicitly listed under the “communications” category, and it indirectly influences many others. Showing effective listening is thus likely to positively influence the overall evaluation of a law student’s potential as a lawyer.


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