The Whole Lawyer and the Character Quotient

With more than 24,000 responses from lawyers in all 50 states, we now have a clear picture of what lawyers need at the point they begin their legal careers. They need to have a blend of legal skills and professional competencies, and, notably, they require character. In fact, 76% of characteristics (things like integrity, work ethic, common sense, and resilience) were identified by half or more of respondents as necessary right out of law school, while just 46% of professional competencies (like arriving on time, listening attentively, and teamwork) were identified by half or more as similarly necessary. Legal skills (like legal research, issue spotting, and legal analysis) were identified by half or more of respondents as necessary right out of law school to an even lesser degree than either characteristics or professional competencies. Specifically, fewer than half of the legal skills we asked about—just 40%—were identified as necessary right out of law school. This is not to suggest that legal skills were viewed as unnecessary by respondents. In total, 98% of the legal skills we asked about were identified as necessary, but they were identified as foundations that could be acquired over time and that were not necessary as the new graduate entered his or her career.

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). Our findings suggest that lawyers also require some level of character quotient (CQ).

All of this suggests that successful lawyers are not merely legal technicians, nor are they merely cognitive powerhouses. The current dichotomous debate that places “law school as trade school” up against “law school as intellectual endeavor” is missing the sweet spot and the vision of what legal education could be and what type of lawyers it should be producing. New lawyers need some legal skills and require intelligence—indeed, 84% of respondents indicated that intelligence was necessary right away—but they are successful when they come to the job with a much broader blend of legal skills, professional competencies, and characteristics that comprise the whole lawyer.