I was surprised to see persuasive ability occupying the sixth and last position on the “Big Six” of the Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs. My surprise was that it just barely squeezed onto the “Big Six” list. When you strip away everything else from what attorneys are all about, persuasive ability to my mind survives as the key characteristic that separates top-flight attorneys from the legal masses, winners from losers. Persuasive ability is perhaps the core essence of an effective and successful law practice.
Why Is This Important to Employers?
Persuasive ability pervades every aspect of law practice: attracting, retaining and dealing with clients; winning cases; and achieving a positive result in negotiations. In fact, persuasive ability should be valued even more now that we are immersed in the Internet Age, when competing opinions—and, sad to say, even competing facts—assault us from all sides. It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate credentialed, vetted judgments and opinions from urban legends and outright fabrications…fact from fiction. It is also not easy to overcome escalating cynicism and skepticism.
How to Present This Ability
The inclusion of persuasive ability on the Big Six list, even as only the sixth most essential candidate attribute, means that you have to think about it and try to demonstrate it both when you prepare your initial job applications and for an interview. Resumes that read like position descriptions can never meet employer expectations with respect to this attribute. Instead, you need to document your achievements/accomplishments/results/outcomes on your resume or online application form. These count for much more than a mere job description. In addition, appending a highlights addendum to your resume can go a long way toward confirming your persuasive capabilities. The addendum (I recommend a one-page narrative statement describing how you solved a particular problem, preferably a legal one) should be attached to your resume and referenced at the appropriate point in the body of your resume.
During your job interview(s), it is equally important to demonstrate this trait. You can do that by providing specific examples in response to questions from the interviewer(s) regarding almost anything. Examples should show that you were able to change minds, convince skeptics, and/or influence decisions in your clients’ favor. Keep in mind that you can prompt interview questions that allow you to wax poetic about your persuasive ability by virtue of what you said in your application materials.
Improving Your Persuasive Ability
This may be the most difficult of the Big Six candidate attributes to augment. Opportunities to do so are limited to writing (preferably legal writing), advocacy, negotiation, regulatory commenting, or other action.
Similar to how I suggested in the immediately preceding LegalCareerView.com blog that you might go about improving your writing ability, you can also seek opportunities to write about issues where you can demonstrate your persuasive powers. These do not necessarily have to be in a professional workplace context. You can also write for outside publications, blogs, etc.
In addition, you can demonstrate your persuasive abilities by putting yourself in both professional and extracurricular situations where you have the opportunity to advocate for a particular position or initiative.
Next: Interviewing Primer 101.7: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: The Rest of the Hierarchy