22/2/2022 by Edward Sorrell
Communication skills are essential in all aspects of life and for lawyers, they are even more important. Lawyers will know about the need for communication from law school and legal theory. However, usually the focus tends to be on the persuasion and arguments involved in the courtroom when in fact communication skills are needed in all interactions. When you reach partner-level, great communication skills are crucial in order to get the best out of your team, deal with complex situations on behalf of clients and form strong relationships with your other partners.
Communication skills are particularly useful when it comes to building and maintaining relationships with clients. In almost all job adverts, law firms are vocal about their desire for lawyers with excellent levels of communication. Lawyers need to be able to provide quality client care, network, provide and work well in teams, and communication is at the heart of all these things. So, bearing this in mind, what do you need to learn and how do you improve your communication?
Depending on who you are communicating with your approach and the skills required will differ and it is important to know how to handle each situation. How you communicate with clients will differ to colleagues, while at the same time, you’ll communicate differently with opposing counsel and other third parties. It’s a good lawyer’s job to know how to tailor your communication to each group. At law school you are taught how to approach opposing counsel and how to communicate in a court setting so here, we will be focusing on clients and colleagues.
Communicating with clients
Effective communication is a crucial part of providing excellent client service. Young lawyers are normally filled with enthusiasm and passion, however very often fall victim to their own eagerness because of this, by offering more than they are able to. This can lead to a breakdown in communication down the line. The key to excellent client service and managing expectations is providing realistic potential outcomes and hurdles and assessing all the relevant data when conveying an objective to a client. This shows a high level of competence and ability to do your job rather than letting them down later down the line.
“First impressions open doors; last impressions have lasting influence”
Communicating with colleagues
Colleagues require adaptability and flexibility; you will be required to deal with multiple personality types with a range of different requests, throughout your working life, but especially as a younger lawyer. If you’re given a task by a senior solicitor, make sure to ask questions at the beginning so you have a full understanding of what you're doing and what they expect of you. Doing your job right is much more important than doing it quickly. As you grow you will continue to deal with these types of things but will be administering tasks rather than being administered. In all stages of your career, you will need to be flexible and adaptable to different deadlines and different personalities, so being a good communicator in these situations will be crucial.
Understanding verbal and non-verbal communication
To gain a deeper level of understanding of your clients, managers and colleagues you need to think about more than just what they’re saying. Non-verbal communication such as voice, tone and body language can guide you to provide better service and help you to respond to the situation correctly. What comes out of someone’s mouth isn’t always a perfect indication of what they really want and often for a lawyer, interpreting these non-verbal cues is essential, especially if you are on the path to partnership.
Ensuring your message is clear
The 7 Cs of communication
The 7 Cs of communication are 7 attributes that you should keep in mind while communicating any message. Following these rules will help to improve your written and verbal communication skills and ensure that your message is clear and understandable, aiding you in both your personal and professional life.
Clear – Convey your message in a clear and understandable manner. Using simple short sentences whilst speaking or writing will help clients and colleagues alike understand you.
Concise – Keep it to the point. Refrain from going on tangents or using filler words, this can add time and confusion whilst diminishing the value of your message for both you and your intended listener.
Concrete – Keep it clear and concise and support it with facts. No one can get confused if there is nothing to get confused about. A concrete message is solid and specific
Correct – Make sure everything is correct, from the facts and figures to your spelling and grammar. A grammatically correct message with facts to back it up adds credibility and value to your work.
Complete – It’s also important sure your communication is complete. Messages with missing information can cause misunderstanding and be detrimental to the decision-making process.
Courteous – For any communication to be effective it is critical to have a mutual understanding between both you and whoever you’re communicating with. You need to respect your audience otherwise there will be a breakdown in communication just as you need to be respected.
Coherent – If your messages are not coherent your communication will not be effective. You should have a logical flow and your style, tone and language should be consistent throughout.
Ways to improve your communication skills
The way you deliver a message is not the only way to improve your communication skills, moreover, it depends a lot on what you’re doing when the other is talking
- Listening - Listening will help you understand what the other person wants. On the other hand, not listening or zoning out is a sure-fire way to break down that communication.
- Body language - As mentioned earlier, body language is one example of non-verbal communication. Not only is your own body language important when communicating with someone but reading others' body language can be equally important. A lot of information can be passed without talking
- Confidence – Having confidence in yourself is a great way to put someone at ease, especially when talking with clients (as long as you can back it up with your skills, experience or work ethic). Contrary to what many may think, confidence can be learnt and it all begins with giving it a go.
- Open-mindedness - This will help you tackle different situations in different ways and help you appear approachable to both clients and colleagues due to a flexible, adaptable open-minded approach.
- Respect - Mutual respect is a necessity when it comes to good communication
Communication skills are an essential skill for success and encompass so much more than just the way you speak. However, many lawyers have not mastered them. Starting to take steps towards improving your communication today can give you a jumpstart on your path to partnership. If you’ve enjoyed this blog stick around to learn more skills on the lawyers' path to partnership and follow Realm Recruit on LinkedIn to find out when we release the next instalment.