Lawyers’ Communications in a “New Normal”
March 17, 2022
Reading time: 4 minutes
Communication is an interpersonal skill that involves cooperating and collaborating with others. In all types of professions, this skill is a key element that can create more value and lead to better performance. During the pandemic, many lawyers found themselves tackling communication challenges that were not a factor while working from a physical office. In fact, recent data supports that lawyers are struggling with collaboration and communication while working remotely.1 Effectively communicating in the “new normal” requires a skilled approach that instills a level of trust and confidence with the intended audience.
Effective communication in remote work
Virtual communication is a complex activity requiring consideration of both approach and technology. For many people, communicating virtually is a new and potentially intimidating experience. But, with the right approach and technology in place, lawyers can help colleagues and clients feel more comfortable and secure when communicating from remote locations. Security helps establish trust.
Trust is an important component in the client-lawyer relationship. Establishing confidence in the ability of their lawyer can be more challenging for a client when they cannot meet face-to-face. Crafting and executing a strategic approach can help establish trust and provide the client with confidence that their lawyer understands their goals, and the appropriate technology is in place to help to accomplish them. To help secure the trust of the client while communicating remotely, the following should be established and agreed upon:
- Privacy and security provided by the communication approach and technology providers;
- How and why the communication approach and technology are being used;
- The practitioner’s policy on recording communications;
- Document management and record retention;
- What constitutes a valid signature to an agreement, such as e-signatures; and
- The practitioner’s disclaimer that there is no guarantee that information shared remotely cannot be compromised.
Effective communication fosters client trust in both their lawyer and the work product. As communication skills improve, working with clients may become easier and even more collaborative. Clients who appreciate their lawyer’s communication approach may be more likely to look to the firm for future representations, making the practice more profitable. The basic rule of business: A happy customer is a repeat customer. How can lawyers improve communication skills? While there are many effective communication skills, six key tips are highlighted below.
- Be your authentic self It is critical to show yourself to people in a complete manner. Make no distinction between your online and offline selves; simply be yourself in your online presence. People value authenticity and openness, which are lost in today’s world of digital communication.
- Practice active listening Being a good listener is one of the most important aspects of becoming a good communicator. Active listening fosters reciprocal trust by making the person you are listening to feel heard. Active listening also helps to avoid misunderstandings since you are more likely to understand what the other person is saying correctly.
- Be persuasive When you communicate with people, the words you use have a significant impact on how others see you and interpret your message. Do you find yourself saying things like “maybe” or “I think so” a lot? Start saying “yes,” “no,” or “I’ll do that” instead of “maybe.” This is referred to as “leadership language.”
- Know your audience Legal jargon isn’t easy to understand for everyone. When speaking with clients, you run the danger of losing your essential message if you employ overly formal or archaic terminology. Instead, use plain English and stay as far away from legalese as possible.
- Be aware of your body language Did you know that folding your arms in front of your body can indicate that you are feeling defensive? Or fiddling with a pen might indicate to others that you are bored or uncomfortable? Even when you are in an online meeting, you need to be aware of how your body language communicates your message through your posture, facial expressions, or eye-contact.
- Be clear and concise Have you ever talked to someone that rambles on? Most of the time, we tune out. The best policy is to express your point in as few words as possible if you want to keep your audience’s attention. So, before you say anything, consider this: What is the core of my message? What is the bottom line here? What is important? How can I say this in the simplest way possible?
Tools for better communication within your team and with clients
Communicating with staff and clients in a virtual setting can be challenging. So, taking time to explore new technology available, and whether or not it is a good fit for the firm, is time well-spent. For instance, there are a lot of great messaging applications (i.e. Signal, Pryvate, WhatsApp, Telegram ) that could help simplify and improve communication with staff, as well as with clients. Just remember that a lawyer’s duty of confidentiality and technological competency extends to online activities. So when using any electronic communication software, applications or videoconferencing options, keep these obligations in mind.
As both advocates and advisors, lawyers need to be able to communicate effectively and proficiently. They also need to understand the importance of continuously developing their communication skills. Due to the pandemic, communication needs and means have changed. With the shift to remote work, it is crucial for today’s lawyer to examine and assess their communication style. Because, although operating technology during a virtual meeting is critical, so is appreciating the importance of constructive and fruitful remote discussion.
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