SHIFTING FROM "SOFT SKILLS" TO "POWER SKILLS"
SEALS Conference | Virtual | August 4, 2020
The 2020 Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) Conference Writing Connections Program included a discussion group that re-envisioned “soft” skills as “power” skills critical for success in legal practice. Shifting our understanding from soft skills to power skills demonstrates the importance of cultural sensibility, empathy, and vulnerability to inclusive representation. Power skills set law students apart in the current legal market—making them more desirable and successful, as law firms and organizations seek lawyers who are knowledgeable not only in the law but also in connecting with diverse clients and audiences. Discussants shared the power skill they teach in class, how they communicate its importance in legal education, and why it matters.
Featured Discussant Essays
Many of our students hold damaging misconceptions about self-care. Some view acts of self-care as weak, needy, self-indulgent, or selfish. Others may deem acts of self-care even unproductive and, therefore, unnecessary. Our students often carry these misconceptions unconsciously. As a result, many of their attempts to engage in healthy habits—such as consistent sleep, mindful nutrition, or meaningful human interaction—are short-lived and rarely prioritized. Yet studies show that self-care, or attending to one’s well-being, correlates to enhanced academic performance, ethical decision-making, and creativity. Students who prioritize their well-being will one day become effective and powerful advocates. And they will be more likely to live professional and personal lives that are consistent with their values.
It’s time to reframe self-care as the power skill that it is— for the benefit of our law students and those sometimes-skeptical educators (including, at times, many of us). Read full essay.
Anne E. Mullins
Working effectively with others is one of the most important skills for lawyer success. When I tell students I am placing them into permanent teams for the semester, however, the response is not quite enthusiastic. More commonly, the responses range from deer-in-headlights to curiosity tempered with hesitation. The curiosity vanishes and only the hesitation remains after I share that teammate evaluations will be part of their final grade.
I have taught Team-Based Learning (TBL) for over five years. TBL is a collaborative learning process that starts with individual work, followed by teamwork, culminating with feedback; rinse, repeat. The backbone of TBL is permanent student teams for the entire semester or year. Two of the biggest challenges in TBL are getting students to buy into the process early in the semester and getting students to evaluate each others’ performance meaningfully. In this essay, I share some of the strategies I have developed to overcome these challenges. Read full essay.
The ability to connect with diverse clients and audiences is not a soft skill, but a power skill. This connection is just as important as substantive knowledge and is essential for the competent practice of law. Fostering that connection must start with recognizing one’s own positionality. Without that starting point, there can be no way to step beyond and recognize the validity of other positionalities. Thus, one challenge in the classroom is to cultivate this ability to recognize positionality. To use the language of assessments and learning outcomes, how do we cultivate this aspect of cultural competence?
One way is by building empathy. One cannot be culturally competent if one is in a silo, if one lacks empathy. Two ways to be intentional about building empathy in the classroom, as a pathway to cultivating culturally competent lawyers, include (1) modeling awareness as the professor; and (2) integrating culturally meaningful facts into assignments. Read full essay.
L. Danielle Tully
Law school is disorienting, especially in the first year, as students begin their socialization to the profession. This socialization impacts professional identity construction by defining roles, communicating norms, and unspooling narratives about what it means to be a lawyer and to practice law. For too long, the end goal of this socialization has been to “think like a lawyer,” and thinking like a lawyer has meant mastering black letter law, tactical issue spotting, and dispassionate communication. As a result, many new law students find themselves quickly adrift, cut-off from their former selves.
Despite decades of critique and various reform efforts, the traditional law school curriculum continues to replicate White dominant social culture and perpetuate a false narrative that law—not to mention the study of it—is neutral. Although some first-year podium professors integrate critical perspectives into their courses, most of these courses are taught exclusively from edited appellate decisions that gloss over human context and long-entrenched power structures. Read full essay.