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This post covers essential communication skills for lawyers.
Communication can be defined as the process by which people share ideas, experiences, knowledge, and feelings through the transmission of symbolic messages.
The ability to communicate well is arguably the skillset lawyers neglect the most.
In fact, many don’t think of it as a skill at all, but something you’re either born with or not.
Others know they have room for improvement but the demands of practicing law make the time and effort to learn new skills seem like a luxury they can’t afford it.
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But strong communication skills are essential for lawyers.
You may check these communication statistics from pumble.com statistics to understand what I mean.
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Why do lawyers need good communication skills?
On a typical day, a lawyer may deal with a surly judge, an unhappy client, and perhaps a difficult adversary.
No lawyer should take all of that on without the skills they need to handle difficult people and situations with poise and confidence.
Lawyers who’ve learned how to say the right words, strike the right tone, and listen more effectively have a significant advantage over those who lack those skills, not just professionally, but in every facet of life.
They will likely be more influential than their peers, have happier clients, and enjoy the career opportunities most lawyers will never have.
And the good news is those good communicators are made, not born.
Anyone can learn these skills and see dramatic improvement without having to invent the thirty-six-hour day.
Communication Skills for Lawyers
Here are a few simple ways to communicate more effectively as a lawyer
Remember that less is more
Judges are busier than ever, and they’ve heard it all before anyway, so tell them what they really need to know, as concisely as possible, and they’ll ask questions if they want to know more.
Think before you speak.
Don’t be like the attorney who had this exchange with an expert witness in court:
- Attorney: Doctor, as a result of your examination of the plaintiff, is the young lady pregnant?
- Witness: The young lady is pregnant–but not as a result of my examination.
We’ve all been there and feel the lawyer’s pain. But with the right set of skills, these mistakes are easily avoided, and, let’s face it – this kind of thing isn’t exactly a boon to your career.
Saying just enough is the key to effective verbal communication; avoid talking too much or too little.
Use as few words as you can to get your point across.
Whether you’re communicating to someone in person, over the phone, or over email, be clear and concise in what you want.
If you drone on, your audience will either lose interest or become confused about what you really want.
Be an active listener
One of the finest ways to communicate effectively is to be a good listener.
Nobody enjoys conversing with someone who simply wants to add their two cents and doesn’t give the other person a chance to speak.
It will be challenging to understand what you’re being asked to do if you don’t listen well.
Show you’re listening through posture and facial expression and playback what you’ve heard.
In order to assure understanding, active listeners pay close attention to what the other person is saying, ask clarifying questions, and rephrase their statements (e.g., “So, what you’re saying is…”).
You can more effectively understand what the other person is trying to communicate and respond accordingly by actively listening.
Simple expressions like “I know where you are coming from” can be used to show that you have paid attention to the other person and value their viewpoints.
It will be simpler to show empathy if you can actively listen to your conversation partner and become aware of their thoughts and feelings.
A little empathy goes a long way.
People will be less defensive and more receptive.
Know your audience.
- Who are they?
- What do they know?
- What do they need to know?
- Are they friendly or hostile?
- What motivates them?
Remember that most communication is non-verbal. What you have to say is of course paramount, but it’s not enough.
To help your audience grasp and retain your message you must be skillful and strategic with your non-verbal communication as well.
The short version of that is: stand up straight, speak up, and look people in the eye. Let your body language project poise and confidence, not fear and uncertainty.
An attorney’s communication style-not just what he or she says, but how he or she says it can affect the outcome of a transaction.
To be persuasive, compelling, and memorable to your audience you must add strong non-verbal skills – good eye contact, appropriate gestures, confident posture, and professional appearance – to the words you say.
You don’t have to dress like a millionaire but at least retire that suit you bought during the Kennedy administration. People judge you by your appearance more than you may think.
Keep learning & Practice
Learn some new communication skills and then work on them as if your professional success depends on them. Go to a communication skills course, or workshop, be brave and watch yourself on video, and, above all, practice, practice, and then practice some more.
Clients have too much at stake for lawyers to just keep doing what they’ve always done, hoping for a different result.
If all you intend to do is simply deliver your content to your audience, you might as well send your newest associate and take the day off.
With even a modest investment of time and effort, you can be a more powerful advocate for your clients and maybe even rediscover the passion that drew you to the legal profession in the first place.
Communication skills include being able to provide and receive feedback in an appropriate manner.
Don’t leave the people you communicate with hanging!
Giving feedback also involves praising your client, judge, colleague, etc; even a simple “nice work” or “thanks for taking care of things” can significantly boost motivation.
Similar to that, you ought to be able to accept and even encourage other feedback.
When you receive feedback, pay attention to it, try to put it into practice, and if you have any questions that might help clarify something, ask.