On screen communication skills have become more important than ever for lawyers and when it comes to online recruitment, the need to use them properly has never been more important. Legal recruiter Louise Hall-Strutt outlines what lawyers need to know.
The cut and thrust of face-to-face is in the blood of many lawyers, but the trend to digital communications brought about by the pandemic means the industry has to get better at on-screen communications, not least mid to senior job applicants.
Altitude Recruitment chief executive Louise Hall-Strutt, founder of legal recruitment company Altitude, said prevailing in front of a court should be well within the wheelhouse of any competent lawyer—communicating well via video feed however is a whole other level of skill.
“My advice to employers is to make sure that the lawyers they hire are competent communicators via digital communications, because research shows that court hearings conducted by video link disadvantage the defendant.
“Communicating via video is an art form in itself and lawyers working via video link—even for job interviews—will need every advantage they can get.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic swept over the world, companies were forced to send staff home under strict lockdown orders. Suddenly, every task – small or large – needed to be done online with new digital tools like Zoom. For legal firms, that included all client work and cases.
“But it also meant candidates interviews were done online which was more difficult than many lawyers expected. Digital communications are a challenge for lawyers, whether it was in-court appearances by video link, conferences or negotiations,” Hall-Strutt said.
Companies are now mostly cleared to return to offices, but digital commuting for staff who live in different cities and more day-to-day connections using Zoom or Microsoft Teams is now an expected part of the average workday.
“So, while communications have always been critical for lawyers, how they present on video is increasingly important for their effectiveness and success. These skills are crucial for candidates as firms are looking for digital competencies along with everything else,” Hall-Strutt said.
Since there will be more digital presentations and the use of communications technologies in years to come, legal candidates should upskill on the best ways to portray themselves in an online presentation so they can get across crucial information.
These online skills will be important for the recruitment process as well, she said.
“The preference will probably remain face-to-face because it is always difficult for people to come across well on a screen. But it is important for lawyers to come across well when using online technologies.
“The neat thing is that many digital presentation tips apply equally well to in-person delivery. This includes establishing end goals, preparing a framework and offering strong content. Practising speeches to perfection is also a good habit in most legal careers,” Hall-Strutt said.
As any lawyer knows, communication is not just what is said, it is also how a person presents themselves and what they choose to wear when with others, she added.
“I heard of many recruitment meetings where the candidate either didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation or perhaps it slipped their mind. Some great candidates logged onto their interview call wearing casual clothing or presented as unkempt. That really sends a negative signal to a potential employer,” Hall-Strutt said.
She offered a handful of tips for lawyers to succeed via digital communications.
1. Dress well
Zoom meetings are great because attendees can dress casually. But that’s not a great strategy when applying for a new role, Hall-Strutt said.
“The best way to present digitally when the stakes are high is to create a business-like environment in your home office. Use a space in your home that’s as bland as possible, with no potential for disturbance. Dress smartly from head to toe to create the best mindset,” she said.
2. Master your body language
Online interviews don’t mean candidates are free from body language pitfalls. While it is much better to meet face-to-face, focusing on non-verbal cues is important in both online and physical meetings.
“People respond to people. Communication is only possible when you are warm, authentic and build a personal connection. You won’t succeed if you present online robotically. Be purposeful, but not too exaggerated with your body language. Keep your back straight and lean towards the screen.
“Smile, nod, and maintain strong eye contact. You can also show your attention moving from one person to another across a split screen. To emphasise key points, use hand gestures and subtle movements in your upper body,” Hall-Strutt said.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Research shows that visual communication is more effective than oral or written. An image can convey information three times faster than words. People can see 75% of what they hear and smell, while only 13% of what they hear.
“Visuals can be a powerful tool to help you convince an audience in digital presentation. If you have a way to show your point visually, make sure to do so. Trust and rapport are difficult over a video call, but it’s crucial to get it right,” Hall-Strutt said.