How “Grit” Skills Breed Success for Lawyers

Topics: Diversity, Law Schools, Legal Education, legal employment, Legal Innovation, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


Grit, defined as “strength of character involving courage and resolve”, is a new discussion in the legal field in the last few years. The ABA created The Grit Project and numerous articles have been written on grit and millennial lawyers and grit and women attorneys. The ongoing cognitive dissonance between legal hiring and required competencies to perform successfully as a lawyer is surprising. Moreover, the long-held belief by legal employers that hiring for credentials — such as highly ranked law school or GPA — will bring the best batch of lawyers is outdated. As the Assistant Dean of Career and Professional Development at Pace Law School, I have come to believe that grit is the key ingredient for success of lawyers in the 21st century.

“Thinking like a lawyer” is not enough. Doing what needs to get done — in the lawyer context, the ability to pivot and learn new skills — is at the core of grit. In other words, grit is adapting to new realities. It’s no secret that attorneys need to adapt to their clients; however, most lawyers are going kicking and screaming into adaption mode. But law students — many of whom may come from humble beginnings — are well prepared to adapt because of their grit. They have had to adapt their whole lives, from navigating the college admission system to being the first in their family to go to college or law school.

At the heart of a successful lawyer are business development and customer service skills. Grit is required because many times, lawyers hear “no,” and it takes resolve to bounce back and keep going to the next opportunity.

Some law schools give students exposure to the necessity of adapting to client demands such as technology, diversity, and efficiency. In traditional classroom settings, such courses like Accounting for Lawyers, Interviewing, Counseling, and Negotiations and some drafting classes, offer some real-world skills. Classes like Electronic Discovery and Drafting Legal Documents can offer a simulation of real-life required skills. Many attorneys cite their clinical experiences and Moot court competitions as their favorite and most rewarding experiences of law school because they are real or simulated experiential learning experiences. These courses and programs are just examples of how law schools work directly with students to give them an edge and understanding of the legal profession.

At the heart of a successful lawyer are business development and customer service skills. Grit is required because many times, lawyers hear “no,” and it takes resolve to bounce back and keep going to the next opportunity. Many law school graduates have overcome tremendous adversity in their life to move beyond their humble beginnings. They heard “no” a lot despite their hard work and intelligence. Their life experiences make them well-positioned to be potential rain makers because they had to overcome many obstacles to succeed as law school graduates. This is why you will find that most of the major rainmakers at firms are not the same lawyers at the firm who graduated at the top of their class. The soft skills required to be a rainmaker are sometimes diametrically opposed to the skill sets of those who are academics — succeeding beyond your grades is grit.

Technical savvy is another characteristic that requires grit. The legal industry is fraught with disruption and technological change; and as time goes on, attorneys will lean more and more on technology in their daily workflow. Today’s law students are digital natives, and Gen-Zers are well positioned to learn and evolve with new technologies that give them the ability to create a better work product more efficiently. For example, at Pace Law in the “Law and Technology Track”, students take courses that will prepare them to help clients effectively navigate technology in regards to regulatory positions, advise on social media and online campaigns, and counsel clients on how electronic discovery and computer crimes are changing the law. Digital privacy is also an over-reaching concern in this country, and it is going to be up to lawyers to help solve the issues involved with protecting people’s privacy. These issues are on the forefront of both transactional and litigation practices, and as these issues continue to evolve — so will the need for new lawyers with evolved technological skills.

Overall, lots of legal employers still seem to focus on such credentials as GPA over other more relevant skills sets to determine junior lawyers’ future success. Grit most certainly is and will continue to be required as the winds of change inform legal knowledge and technology. Grasping these and the softer skills of customer service breed success in the future for both younger lawyers and their employers.