Communication is one of the most important skills a lawyer will use throughout their career. Whether in a courtroom, negotiating a settlement, writing a motion, or speaking with clients, lawyers use some form of communication every day. Effective communication for lawyers is a critical factor for success.
Lawyers spend a large portion of their day communicating with clients. Sometimes this is during client intake or the initial consultation, and sometimes through an email informing a client of an update on their case. Communication skills for lawyers are essential because communication shapes the way a client sees the attorney and the firm.
Legal matters can often change the course of a client’s life, so it is understandable to have a client anxious over their case. Lawyers should communicate with clients clearly and often to ease their fears and keep them informed about their cases.
It is important to avoid using legal jargon when a lawyer communicates with clients. Using plain language will allow a client to understand the provided information easily. Lawyers should always invite their clients to ask questions and reach out if necessary.
Communicating with clients is more than just case updates. An action as simple as sending an email summarizing a meeting will help clients feel like you are proactive in their case.
One way to manage client communication is to set expectations and standards in the attorney-client relationship. Expectations can include:
Setting these boundaries will help manage a client’s expectations and avoid disappointment and negative feelings toward the firm.
Listening skills are essential for effective communication for lawyers. Many lawyers think that communication is just giving clients legal advice and don’t feel the need to listen carefully; however, lawyers need to be proficient in active listening. This means paying attention to a client’s concerns, earning a client’s trust, and working to build a solid attorney-client relationship.
According to “What Great Listeners Actually Do,” a Harvard Business Review article, good listeners do the following:
Experts recommend that attorneys avoid interrupting clients and formulating answers while clients are still talking to improve listening skills. Instead, lawyers should pay attention and look for non-verbal cues like body language and emotion.
When an attorney shows curiosity in their communication, they can more effectively bring value to the conservation. Curiosity leads to honest communication and helps build a strong relationship, whether with clients or other attorneys.
Showing curiosity will help clients feel like they are respected and will trust their attorney and be more open. This allows an attorney to provide the client with valuable legal advice and guidance, furthering a healthy attorney-client relationship.
A lawyer’s main goal should be to provide a client with sound counsel. This cannot be done without good communication skills. When giving legal advice, a lawyer needs to consider the law, but they also must consider the moral, economic, and social factors relevant to a client’s legal matter. Attorneys are bound by ethics rules, and these should be considered when counseling clients.
An attorney is responsible for giving clients candid advice even when this involves bad news. Communication skills for lawyers will allow an attorney to deliver this news in a way that keeps a client’s expectations grounded but also keeps their morale and trust in the attorney high. Attorneys need to have a good understanding of the client to provide sound, effective counsel.
Automated communication can be efficient and save time, but it is vital to use it only when appropriate. Automation can be impersonal, which can make clients feel like they aren’t valued.
Automated messages are great for welcome letters, closeout letters, or informing a client about an attorney’s availability. However, an automated reply will not be appropriate when a nervous client contacts the law firm anxious about their case. To maintain a strong attorney-client relationship, important case information, bad news, or calming a client’s anxieties should be handled personally.
significance of communication skills for lawyers
The significance of communication skills for lawyers should not be underestimated. Good communication skills and active listening are two essential keys to success in a law practice.
It is common for lawyers to engage in public speaking. While litigators will regularly experience public speaking in the courtroom, attorneys may also have to give speeches for community events, CLE presentations, or other industry events. An attorney must study public speaking to ensure they can deliver an effective and memorable speech.
Preparation is vital for delivering a speech. It is good practice to start with an outline of the points that you would like to address. Keywords can help focus your intentions and help you remember what you want to say.
Many people like to create notecards to help guide them through their speech. Notecards should be numbered, written out clearly, and only contain key information and points. You don’t want to be reading off notecards while delivering your speech.
One mistake often made when writing and delivering a speech is relying on a written script. We do not speak as we write, so it can sound unnatural or robotic if a speech is delivered from a written script.
Instead of reading a script, keep a speech relaxed and conversational. Even if you rehearse your speech a thousand times, it should still sound spontaneous and original. When you maintain a conversational tone, people will pay attention.
The two most important factors of a speech are the message and the audience. The best speech makers can engage the audience and emphasize the focus on the message of the speech. This can be done by posing questions to the audience.
It is essential to understand that certain words can change an audience’s perception of the speaker. Avoid using phrases like “just,” “I think,” or “actually,” which can undermine your authority and cause an audience to lose faith in your message.
The end of your speech is what your audience will remember, so it needs to be robust and inspiring. The conclusion of a speech should summarize the purpose and the main points of the speech. Main points should not be repeated word for word but rather rephrased, making sure to drive home the important key themes and issues.
You will want to end your speech on a high note that leaves your audience feeling uplifted and hopeful about your message. You can also finish your speech with an anecdote or a favorite quotation that reinforces the theme of your speech. Most importantly, your audience should walk away with a lasting takeaway message that they will remember days after hearing your speech.