In my articles so far with public speaking tips, I’ve mainly focused on big audiences. However, public speaking (in my mind) also encompasses smaller interactions. It also covers not just speaking, but other elements of communication. That said, I thought that “public communication” would sound weird so I went with public speaking instead.
You and Your Client – A chance for Public Speaking
OK to be fair it’s kind of “private speaking”. However, speaking to your clients can be an important element of legal communication. I have written about communication generally before, and how building a relationship of trust can ease the way – and those things are all true. However, sometimes we need to get away from the psychology and just into the practical side of things. To that end…
Wait Your Turn
Often, not speaking is far more valuable than speaking. Unless there is a specific pause, or a question is put to you – don’t feel an obligation to fill up every gap with noise, just because your client has stopped speaking themselves.
Ask Questions Precisely
Make sure you are asking questions that you actually need answers to, and actually listening to the answers. I see a lot of interviews get confused because the lawyer isn’t asking clear questions of their client.
Don’t be Afraid to Restate, Revisit, or Misunderstand
You know what’s more important than you seeming silly? Everything. Included in “everything” is a proper understanding of your client’s case. So if you don’t understand something or have clarification required, then ASK. If the client said something that didn’t make sense, or used a technical word you don’t know – then ASK. One of the primary purposes of the client interview is to come out with a comprehensive understanding of the case, not just for a nice chat. Often client answers are vague, garbled, and self-serving. That’s not too surprising in the circumstances, but your job is to get precision, comprehension, and an objective (to the extent possible) view of the facts. So if your client says “I think Joe might have done X, Y and Z on that day” then ask them why they think that, where they heard that, and drill down on what personal information they can add to that. Also – get Joe’s details in case you need them later. The other thing to be wary of is being brushed off. If a client’s brushing you off on a relevant, important question – you need to appreciate the reasons why. Often they’ll say “that’s not relevant” for example – but experience tells us that clients are normally the worst judge of what is relevant and what is not. It’s kind of like me telling my dentist that the hole in my back tooth is not relevant to him and could he focus on the front teeth please.
If you have something to say – say it. In short – get to the point, even when speaking. That’s all for today. Happy Lawyering!