The communication techniques that great lawyers use to develop rapport with a client, get the information you need, and leave the client feeling well looked after and confident in your abilities can sometimes seem a bit elusive. Expertise in the most critical communication skills can put you on the right path.
Although some of us are more naturally affable in this area than others, there are some useful communication strategies you can use to try and hone your attention in the right areas.
Communication Technique 1 – Know the True Question
So many lawyers get stuck on what they think the question is, that they don’t ever find out what the real question is.
Here’s how is normally goes – client comes in, starts telling the story of their issue, and the lawyer starts down a path by interrupting the client, asking too many questions on what they think the issue is.
The problem is this: you never actually allowed the client to finish their story and articulate their own issues.
If you’re interviewing a client, you need to ensure that you don’t sidetrack the discussion on to what you think they wanted – listen to what they really want, and if you don’t know for sure then ask – “what do you want me to do, what is it that you’re hoping to achieve?”.
Communication Technique 2- Listen Beyond the Words
Most people have heard about the value of non-verbal communication – head nods, body language, tone of voice.
But do you consciously use this in your interviewing technique? Most lawyers I know simply barrel in with the superhero syndrome we all have and want to fix the problems that our client comes to us with as fast as possible.
But they’re so busy answering the question and offering the advice that they don’t notice what’s happening on the other side of the table.
It’s here that you can figure out whether you’re on the wrong track, whether there’s something else unspoken that’s going on. How is your client reacting? Are they even listening to what you say? Do they feel interrupted, are they fidgeting, nervous, upset, angry, intimidated.
All of these clues, if you’re paying attention, will help you figure out what you need to do next.
Communication Technique 3 – Adapt as Required
So many young lawyers go into a meeting (including ones with me) so focused on what they think the meeting is about and what they need to do or say, that they completely miss the fact that they need to pivot into a different approach, a different product, or a different outcome.
For example – in a first client meeting you might have received a a summary from whoever set up the meeting but have limited other facts. Perhaps you have the view that the client needs to sue someone.
But as it turns out, the client has already sued someone and is looking to collect the judgment debt.
Provided you are using communication techniques 1 and 2 above, you’ll hopefully pick up very quickly that you’re on the wrong track. Adapt, correct, and then continue on the correct path.
Communication Technique 4 – Silence is Golden
Some of the most important information clients have told me has come as a result of my saying nothing.
Just let the client talk. Stop butting in. Stop asking questions all the time. Stop advising them every 5 seconds on what the “should” do next.
Let them talk. Take in the information.
Just because there is a silence in the meeting – doesn’t mean you have to fill it with your voice.
Communication Technique 5 – Don’t Try Write Everything Down
Here is one for all the junior lawyers out there – stop trying to write down every single word of the interview.
If you’re so focused on trying to capture every word out of a client’s mouth, you cannot possibly be:
- Making eye contact and generally looking like you’re listening to the client at all
- Paying attention to the non-verbal cues your client will give you (tip 2 above)
- Understanding the big picture – you’re too focused on the individual words.
Of course you need to get the essence and the critical information down, but don’t try and write every word – you’ll simply miss too much important information, even if you do manage to get a transcript on the page.
Using These Communication Techniques is a Breeze
This stuff isn’t rocket science, but the opportunity to have a great client interview passes a lot of lawyers by because they don’t follow some of these simple techniques.
It’s pretty easy – just be deliberate. Choose to listen, to watch, to pause instead of speak, and to write down the essence – above all, pay attention to what your client is really saying, and go from there.