Law Students

Strong Character More Desirable Than Legal Skills for New Hire Candidates, Survey Says
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Summary: A new survey found that having a strong character is essential in launching a legal career. 

We seem to always be bombarded with tips on how to get a first job: what to put on a resume, how to network, and what law firms are looking for when hiring. But a new report published by The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System said that what really jumpstarts a new attorney’s career is strong character. According to the IAALS, having positive personality traits determine success more than legal skills when it comes to new attorney hiring, and this conclusion is based off of a survey of more than 24,000 attorneys across the country.


IAALS is a think tank based at the University of Denver, and they said that the purpose of their survey was to better define what employers wanted from graduates and to help law schools prepare their students to match those needs. They cited the alarming statistics of a significant portion of unemployed law school graduates as a reason that it was important to study law firm needs.

“The employment gap for law school graduates is well-documented,” IAALS said. “Almost 40% of 2015 law graduates did not secure full-time jobs requiring a law license and only 70% of 2015 graduates landed a full-time job that either required a law license or gave a preference to candidates with a juris doctor. One in four 2015 graduates did not report having any type of job, even a non-professional job, after law school. The employment gap is exacerbated by another gap: the gap between the skillset lawyers want in new graduates and the skillset lawyers believe new graduates have. Only 23% of practitioners believe new lawyers have sufficient skills to practice.”

Alli Gerkman, the study’s author, told that she was surprised how many attorneys responded to the survey. She said that their participation may speak to frustration with the status quo and a desire for change. She also believed that law schools wanted to know the results of the survey in order to rethink how and what they teach students.

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Survey respondents rated the necessity of 147 different characteristics or skills, and 76% of them said having a strong character was an important attribute in starting a legal career. They rated qualities such as integrity, work ethic, common sense, and resilience as necessary to have right after graduating law school, and only 40% said that legal skills were necessary for new hires.

“When we talk about what makes people—not just lawyers— successful we have come to accept that they require some threshold intelligence quotient (IQ) and, in more recent years, that they also require a favorable emotional intelligence (EQ),” IAALS wrote. “Our findings suggest that lawyers also require some level of character quotient (CQ).”

It is debatable whether or not character can be taught at law schools, but Gerkman said that strong character traits such as diligence and integrity can be learned, which is also a controversial stance. IAALS said that for there to be change in the legal field, law firms must also stop following the traditional hiring model and start hiring based on what they said they are looking for in recent graduates.

“Historically, employers have not understood that they could have an impact,” Gerkman said. “They’re beginning to understand that their hiring practices impact how law schools teach.”

Currently, most big law firms use criteria such as grades and school ranking to hire new associates.

Do you think employers will actually hire based on what they want–character–or are they going to continue with the old hiring model? Let us know in the comments below. 


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