5 Ways to Improve Communication Skills for Lawyers

What is the single most important skill for an attorney to possess? You might say legal knowledge. Perhaps you feel it’s an understanding of how our justice system works, or the intricacies of the U.S. tax code if you’re a tax attorney. Yes, those are certainly essential. However, your success as a lawyer is contingent on something else – your ability to communicate.

You must communicate with a wide range of people daily, from office staff to existing clients, other legal professionals, judges, and potential clients. Your ability to communicate can make or break your firm’s success. It certainly pays to ensure your communication skills are up to par. 

Just how important are communication skills?

Before we help you improve your communication skills, let’s explore just how important it is to do so. 

  • Teams that communicate better and feel more connected see an increase in productivity of up to 25%. 
  • 72% of business leaders feel that better communication has improved their teams’ productivity and that team member confidence also skyrocketed. 
  • Communication ranks as the most in-demand skill within the workplace.
  • 98% of people say it’s important that a business communicates with them effectively, and 66% of people say they’ve stopped dealing with a business because of poor communication. 

Given the centrality of communication to your law firm’s success, what can you do to improve your communication skills? Don’t worry, there are plenty of things that can make a measurable difference in how well you communicate.

Become an active listener

To communicate effectively, you must be able to listen to what the other person is saying. It’s not enough to listen to respond, however. You must listen to understand. Active listening allows you to do that. 

In this situation, you suspend your ego, put aside your preconceptions and notions, and focus on what the other person is saying and understanding it. Only then can you respond. It’s about fully processing the information, both verbal and nonverbal, and then responding to the underlying message. This requires mastery of cognitive capabilities, your emotional state, and your behavior all at the same time.

So, how do you transform from your default listening mode and become an active listener? First, you need intention. Remind yourself that you are listening to understand and not to respond. It may also help if you identify why you need to listen, which will vary by conversation, as well as who is the focus of attention within the conversation. Periodically check in with yourself during the conversation to make sure you haven’t zoned out. It’s something we all do, but intentionality can help you bring yourself back to the present.

Clear, frequent communication is best

Attorneys are busy people. That often lends itself to hurried communication and long gaps between check-ins with clients. It may even mean that your client onboarding process is rushed. 

Take a deep breath and pause all that. Clear, frequent communication is essential. Most of us feel that we’re pretty clear and that we communicate when necessary, so how do you change this situation?

First, identify the other party’s idea of “frequent”. Do they expect weekly check-ins? Do you only communicate when a certain situation arises? Know what’s expected. For clarity, the best idea is to prioritize what you’re trying to say and then use the least complicated language to communicate that message.

Use everyday language

The legal industry is steeped in specialist language. Latin is everywhere. Case summaries are dense and complex. As an attorney, you’re used to that reality. However, for those who haven’t spent years getting acclimated, such as your clients, it can be more than a little off-putting to hear so much legalese. 

You can improve your communication dramatically by using concise, everyday language. That doesn’t mean dumbing things down too much, but your clients will certainly appreciate feeling less overwhelmed by the language you use to communicate. 

Ask for feedback

Good communicators know that they don’t know everything. They’re aware that they may lack awareness of some things. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” is the old saying. 

As an attorney, you can overcome this challenge by seeking feedback. Ask your current clients and others for feedback about their experience, specifically your communication. Did it meet their expectations? Do they have suggestions to improve it?

Be available

Perhaps the single most important communication tip is this: ensure that you’re available. That can be hard when you’re out of the office, working with clients, involved in court cases, talking to witnesses, or hammering out contracts between various parties. But it’s essential.

How many times does a client or potential client need to call your office before they get an answer? What’s the average turnaround time for replying to messages? Most attorneys measure that in days or even weeks, which is certainly not a good communication strategy. 

If a client must call multiple times just to speak with you, chances are good they won’t be particularly happy with their overall experience. That leads to negative word of mouth and loss of potential clients. If potential clients can’t speak to a live person, they won’t waste time calling back and will jump ship to a competitor. Be available and you can change this paradigm.

Maximizing communication and availability 

While there’s a lot you can do on your own to improve communication as a lawyer, sometimes you need a little help. At Smith.ai, we can act as your legal answering service. Our virtual receptionists have deep experience working with law firms of all shapes and sizes and they’ve all mastered the art of communication. From 24/7 phone answering to appointment booking, SMS text answering, and lead screening/intake, we help you communicate better and in real time.

To learn more, schedule a consultation or reach out to hello@smith.ai.

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Written by Tom Armitage

Tom Armitage is a Senior Marketing Manager with Smith.ai.

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