Seven Keys To Effective Communication

By Irene Leonard, Lawyer Coach    

Good communication skills are vital to a successful, rewarding practice. You need to communicate well with your clients, staff, partners, associates, other lawyers, and vendors. Improving your communication skills will let you express yourself with more confidence; more confidence will help you attract more clients and influence your peers and referral sources.

Master good communication, and your practice will be more enjoyable, because if you are communicating well with people they will trust and like you, and that will make it easier to like - and enjoy helping - them. Your practice will also be more profitable, because clients will be more likely to pay your bill.

Great legal communicators excel at seven key skills.

Verbal Communication

Don't grow too dependent on email. Some things are best handled by picking up the phone. Bad news should be given by phone or in person, rather than by email.

Negotiations are more likely to be successful when handled by phone. Discussing a problem verbally with a client gives you the forum to engage in the other six communication skills which will help you in maintaining the client's trust.

Calls that you might be tempted to avoid making include letting a client know that a matter will not be completed by the promised date. As soon as you know the matter won't be completed on time, pick up the phone and talk to the client. The sign of a confident, competent lawyer is one that handles problems through honest, prompt communication with clients.

It is important to balance talking with not talking too much. If you dominate the conversation by talking too much, you do not leave room for listening, learning, or understanding. On the other hand, if you're quiet or introverted, you need to be sure that you don't talk too little.

Good Listening

Good listening skills are crucial for effective legal communication. When clients are listened to, they feel understood and are more trusting of you. To connect with your clients and others, and to have them experience you as an effective lawyer, polish your listening skills.

Since lawyers are smart, we often anticipate what is going to be said, and don't feel the need to listen carefully. But when we really listen to a client, we can hear levels of communication that may deepen our understanding of the client's problem.

To improve your listening

Sound Counsel

You've earned the trust of your clients, and they come to you for your opinion on what they should do.

Don't hold back on giving advice — business as well as legal. You want to help your clients take action on their problem, and you make this easier for them if you tell them what you think about their situation.

Openness

Let go of making assumptions. Be open to the possibility that you do not have a complete grasp on the problem before it's been stated, that you do not know what the person is going to tell you. It's important that you understand where the person is really coming from before you start to help them.

Being open also includes being able to come up with many different ways to look at a problem. Creatively consider different options, ideas, strategies, and courses of action.

Curiosity

When we ask questions, we convey our interest. Being curious about someone helps us engage and validate that person. Questions also give us the opportunity to really understand what is going on with the person — a crucial factor in delivering sound legal advice.

Asking powerful questions may also deepen the individual's awareness of his or her problem, an added bonus in helping a client that has come to you for help. Powerful questions are ones that are thought-provoking. They are open-ended and not leading questions. They use "what" or "how" rather than "why."

An example of a powerful, thought-provoking question is: "What do you think of that?"

It's important not to help clients by giving them the answer you think appropriate; wait to hear what they come up with. The originality of their answers may surprise you.

Value

Since most lawyers bill their time, it is critical that their time spent communicating be valuable. Be sure that what you have taken the time to say has value to the person with whom you are communicating. Be sure that your message is clear, succinct and understood.

Consider the result you want to get out of the conversation, and the value of that result. Then, plan what you are going to say. If possible, rehearse out loud; having a script can also be helpful.

But remember that conversations do not often go as planned, and anticipate problems and prepare to address them.

Persuasion

To be successful, a lawyer must be persuasive. Persuasion is important when negotiating, arguing before judges and juries, hiring outstanding staff, and responding to client requests for a proposal. To be persuasive, you need to be inquisitive and open, so that you understand your audience's thoughts and beliefs and can align your arguments accordingly.

When you can, conduct your important discussions when you are feeling most confident. Be calm, prepared, and detached. Do not let uncontrolled emotions run the conversation.

Good Communication Skills

The practice of law is highly dependent on good communication skills, especially persuasive verbal skills. Mastering these seven keys will allow you to connect with your clients in a more meaningful way and solve problems more effectively. You will have more successful presentations and depositions. Even interactions with your staff will be improved.

Irene Leonard has more than 19 years experience as a business lawyer. Now a professional business coach, she helps lawyers improve their ability to be persuasive. Go to her website www.CoachingForChange.com or contact at (206) 723 9900.