Why Soft Skills Matter in Executive Law Jobs - James McCormick

In Chapter 11 of 12 in his 2010 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, legal career advisor James McCormick highlights the importance of soft skills - communication, relationship development, etc. - over time building a law career. Initially McCormick focuses on the importance of these skills leaving a firm culture for an in-house culture. He highlights how softer skills translate into more effective management and sound business practice.

James McCormick is a Vice President at Empire Search Partners in New York City. Before transitioning into legal career advisory services, McCormick practiced law as an employee benefits and executive compensation attorney for both Proskauer Rose and Jones Day. He holds a JD from Tulane University Law School and a BA in History from the University of Michigan.


Erik Michielsen:  Why is understanding company cultural fit so critical when weighing a decision to transition from a law firm to an in-house position? 

James McCormick: In many respects you will see a - sort of a shrinking of the environment.  It is going to be a lot smaller, there are going to be fewer people doing what it is you do than in a big law firm setting.  So, at that stage, you are going to know fairly quickly on whether or not substantively you have a match, whether someone really can perform in the way a particular company is looking for a lawyer to perform. Now, maybe more importantly is the question of whether or not longer term that context, that environment is one that will be personally satisfying.  That comes from the idea of can you develop, maintain, really extend deep personal relationships and ones that will benefit individuals from a mentoring, from a substantive, from a personal perspective.

Erik Michielsen:  What about the softer skills such as engaging with boards of directors and company executives as well as potential clients?

James McCormick:  I think that law firms can certainly assist younger lawyers in putting them in those scenarios, helping them experience that type of context, putting them in boardrooms, having them attend executive meetings, really enabling them to develop that part of their professional existence.  However, at the end of the day, there are people that just excel at it and those that don’t.   

Those that do excel at it really do find themselves at the forefront of whether it be law firm practices, many respects general counsels in large companies have an extremely difficult, sophisticated role that requires them to manage a lot of different personalities, handle difficult situations and to be able to do so in a manner that basically keeps everybody as happy as possible.