Four legal soft skills to improve during quarantine

By Alexandra Sumner

There’s no fighting the fact that most of us will be sheltering at home for at least the next few weeks. Why not use the time productively? Somewhere between the end of a Netflix binge and the beginning of a Hulu one, here are four legal soft skills you can improve on during quarantine:

Excel. Think you know how to use Excel? Think again. While this Microsoft program can be used to keep track of large data sets and calculations, it can also help you manage your (future) billable hours, daily schedule and even stock portfolio!

There are a variety of classes online — some free, some reasonably priced. There’s no need to be an expert at it, but it will certain help your career and financial wellness if you can do more than a simple “sum” function.

- Networking. A large majority of the United States’ workforce is sitting home on their computers with nothing better to do, so why not reach out and make a connection?

While you may not be able to take them out for coffee right now, consider emailing back and forth or even scheduling a “ getting to know one another”  Zoom call. Building up your rolodex now can certainly work in your favor later, but there’s no right way to do it

My suggestions include: reaching out to local bar associations to see if they are hosting any virtual events or seminars; following important law firms in your area on Facebook or LinkedIn; and maybe even finding someone with your dream job and asking how they got there.

While you may not meet in person for a while, that doesn’t mean you can’t lay the groundwork for a productive and meaningful relationship right now.

- Professional wardrobe. Since we’re all stuck at home anyway, what better use of your time than to take inventory of your wardrobe and see what essential pieces are missing?

There are plenty of guides on how to pick the right fit/color/look, but my advice is this: (When you can again) shop at local thrift and secondhand shops, get quality pieces tailored, and keep your closet small. You’re allowed to wear your black pants more than once a week, you know!

Don’t forget the accessories. If you don’t have a watch, get one; and if all your jewelry turns your fingers and ears green, it’s time for an upgrade.

- Public speaking. This is a tough one, if only because most people hate to hear the sound of their own voice.

Take advantage of this time at home by training yourself to speak louder (and more clearly) in front of an audience. There are several skill and self-improvement websites currently offering free classes, give them a try.

To practice what you have learned: turn on your microphone and practice reading a webpage, speech or other important passage while recording yourself. After you have finished, play it back.

While you might cringe at some of your mistakes, take notes so that you can make improvements for next time. This might seem silly and embarrassing, but you want to confront these speech habits now, and not in front of a full courtroom and jury. Keep practicing — it will be much easier to argue your side of the case when you know the decisionmaker can both hear and understand you!

It goes without saying that after your school work and family responsibilities you should be taking some time for self-care. Not every second of the day should be devoted to pushing yourself, and it’s OK to take a break every now and then.

This social upheaval has affected everyone. It's OK to grieve. Self-improvement is one thing, self-preservation is another. You’re doing great, keep going!

Alexandra Sumner is a recent graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.