EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION = EFFECTIVE LAWYERING
- August 25, 2014
- Blog, News & Events
Excellent lawyering is something all law students and lawyers alike strive to achieve. Even if the motivation is based purely on making money, it is a widely agreed-upon fact that to become that rainmaker, the proper legal skills must exist as the most basic prerequisite. Law schools and continuing legal education programs stress this to aspiring and practicing attorneys time and time again. To practice well, however, means much more than simply knowing the black letter law and applying it to the facts. We have to remember that behind all client interaction, there is a person. That person is not a fact pattern. That person not only has what they believe to be a logical reason for needing legal assistance – that person also has an emotional purpose behind the legal issue at hand.
Attorneys are often criticized (and rightly so) for focusing on the minutia of a case, being overzealous or not aggressive enough, and being non-responsive to their clients. The skills required of great practitioners include those that often take years to build. They are the skills that will often get pushed aside because we’ve been taught in school to dive in and issue-spot, get to the root of the problem quickly, and unfortunately, bill for all of our time. As professionals, we need to remember that communication, empathy, and relationship-building are all skills that are just as important as everything they taught us in law school. It becomes highly important to the profession for attorneys to recognize that these skills do not always come naturally, nor do they stick around if they are not put to use.
When clients come to us with a legal problem, we become their advocates. We become someone who is in their corner looking out for their best interests. To effectively be that advocate, it is imperative that we communicate well and often with them. As lawyers, we cannot be content with drafting a complaint, facilitating an agreement for a corporation, or preparing an estate plan without taking the time to walk our clients through what is usually a very stressful time for them. A lawyer that makes the client the priority will be successful – this means returning emails and phone calls in a timely and professional manner, providing status updates, and, generally speaking, being “available.” This is not to say a client would be correct in calling his attorney on his personal number at midnight and expecting an answer. However, as in every great relationship, communication is key.
Many service-oriented, leadership skills, such as communication, teamwork, and relationship-building, are critical and teachable. There are several communication skills that attorneys can channel from the strengths of other professions. There is a proper way to ask questions, pose different suggestions without becoming defensive, and ways to construct a strong foundation for the attorney-client relationship. In short, we must be proactive, responsive, diligent, and aware. Our clients are not just cases – they are people. Better communication in this sense will build better relationships and benefit the future of the profession.