Listening — a key factor that makes an effective lawyer

LegalJob is often asked similar variations of the same question. What do great lawyers do that mediocre ones do not? How can I persuade potential employers that I should be hired? How do I distinguish myself from the competition both in term of applying for the job and once there?

The answer to all these questions is to “LISTEN MORE.”

Listening is so crucial, there is now a helpful blog devoted to the practice! And that same blog points to a study that identified 26 “effectiveness factors” that are useful for predicting success as a lawyer. As the author notes, listening is one of the factors in the study and strong listening is an integral part of many of the other factors.

The study, authored by two Berkeley professors, is based on a survey of thousands of alumni responding to questions such as “If you were looking for a lawyer for an important matter for yourself, what qualities would you be looking for?” From the responses, they identified 26 factors grouped into eight major categories that are useful for predicting success as a lawyer. Here is a list of the factors and categories. And here is the complete study.

Below is information about the eight categories of skills and the factors that deal with relationships (with clients, other lawyers and staff, and opponents) which all involve listening as a key component for success. As proof of the importance of listening, note that five of the eight categories and half of the 26 factors involve listening (either directly or indirectly).


  • Influencing and advocating -- As a precursor to persuading others of your position and winning support, it is helpful to understand their interests and how they see the world. To get there, you have to ask questions and really listen to their responses.
  • Writing -- Again, to be persuasive in writing, it helps to understand both the stylistic preferences of the reader, their knowledge level of the subject matter, and the way they see the world generally and perhaps even on the issue for which you are writing. Obtaining that level of due diligence on the reader ahead of time requires strong listening skills.
  • Speaking -- To knock it out of the park when speaking, it usually helps to know your audience. What are their challenges? What do they worry about? What do they hope to take away from your presentation?
  • Listening -- Strong listening involves careful attention to what is being said (including following facial expressions and body language) and what is not being said.

Planning and Organizing

  • Strategic planning -- Addressing present and future issues and goals requires timely and complete knowledge of what they are; listening helps to ascertain those issues and goals.
  • Organizing and managing one’s own work -- Listening to (and taking into account) client and partner preferences about the delivery of your work product helps to ensure that your work product will be well received.
  • Organizing and managing others (staff/colleagues) -- Listening to others’ perspective and challenges will help you organize and manage others’ work to accomplish common goals.

Conflict Resolution

  • Negotiation skills -- One key to resolving disputes to the satisfaction of all concerned is to understand (through asking questions and listening to the answers) what is important to others.
  • Able to see the world through the eyes of other -- Listening is required to understand the positions, mindset, objectives, and goals of others.

Client and business relations -- entrepreneurship

  • Networking and business development -- Listening to challenges and goals of others is the first step to developing productive business relationships.
  • Providing advice and counsel and building relationships with clients -- Listening to a client and obtaining a deep understanding of how their world works will help strengthen the relationship.

Working with others

  • Developing relationships with the legal profession -- Listening is a crucial component (and often a necessary first step) of establishing quality relationships with others to work toward common goals.
  • Evaluation, development and mentoring -- Listening to others and demonstrating that you understand their challenges will help gain their trust such that they will be more open to your guidance.

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