The Wall Street Journal blog posted the results of a focus-group study with legal employers, and it seems that employers are looking for expert researchers with people skills.
Law school graduates entering the workforce need to know that "it’s the softer skills, like work ethic, collegiality and a sense of individual responsibility, that really impress legal employers, according to the study." While the "researchers had thought that the attorneys would focus mostly on the need for basic practical skills, like writing, analysis and research, the comments on soft skills — defined as “personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social graces that make someone a good employee” — tended to dominate the responses."
"The focus-group participants said ideal job applicants have a strong work ethic, can work independently without excessive 'hand holding,' and would bring a positive attitude to the workplace."
The other important skill was the ability to research. "Employers, particularly those with more years in practice, rely on new attorneys to be research experts. The employers in [the] focus groups have high expectations when it comes to new hires’ research skills, i.e., '[t]hey should be able to adequately and effectively find everything that’s up to the minute.'"
And according to these legal employers, "[b]eing a research expert also means knowing how to scour books, not just websites. 'Statutes, treatises and encyclopedias, and desk books are the sources employers still use in paper form. For this reason, new attorneys may want to be familiar with these paper sources.'"
And last but not least, legal employers want new hires to know their audience when it comes to memo writing. There are some clients who might prefer the "full-blown research memo" that we learn in law school, and there are other clients who just want the answer in a short and succinct format. It's important to know which type of client you are dealing with to best suit their needs.