Lawyers’ Communications In A ‘New Normal’ – How To Improve Lawyers Communication Skills

How can lawyers help themselves – and others struggling with communication while working remotely? 

Contents

Inna Ptitsyna* Communication is an interpersonal skill that involves cooperating and collaborating with others. In all types of professions we need to cooperate with others to perform better and create more value. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the true importance of communication. As the 2020 State of Remote Work Report highlights, professionals are primarily struggling with collaboration and communication while working remotely.

Where are communications in lawyers’ work?

Lawyers are in a unique position to help individuals, groups, and organizations with their legal problems and to contribute to public good. To do so, they need to know how to communicate effectively and develop continuously in this sphere.

 

Due to the pandemic, communication both between legal team members and with clients has changed. With the move to remote work, there is now more need for you as a lawyer or legal team lead to be an experienced communicator. It is not only a matter of technology, but also understanding the value of constructive and productive remote dialogue. Establishing trust in an interaction gives the client confidence that their lawyer understands their goals and challenges, and technology only helps to achieve this goal in online communication.

“Effective communication in remote work involves the intelligent application of approaches and technology to the functions of the practitioner.”

Susan Andrews 

Founder and Principal, Andrews Dispute Resolution

Technology has made this transformation to work and communication possible, largely by increasing the number of ways that employees can communicate and collaborate remotely. However, with any advances in communications technology, attorneys should consider how they may affect the application of the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work-product doctrine. 

In this chapter, we will talk about the basics of effective communication, what skills are important to develop, and what tools could help you improve your communication abilities.

Effective communication in remote work

Communication is a complex activity that requires consideration of both the purpose and the context of interaction. As Susan Andrews explains, intelligent application of approaches and technology integrates efficiency, effectiveness and ethics enabling your colleagues and clients to feel safe and trust communicating in remote environments. It is trust that we want to emphasize, because it is difficult to build when we do not interact effectively.

Trust = Trustworthiness + Competence

Trust has two components, trustworthiness and competence and we need both in order to be trusted by others. Trustworthiness is displayed in the character one portrays in remote communication, while competence is in one’s ability to use the technology proficiently.

Andrews further explains, “The selection and transparency of, and the comfort, competency and confidence in, the approaches and technology being used by the practitioner with their clients require informed consent by the clients. This is achieved through communication, disclosure, preparation, technical support (whether direct by the practitioner or indirect by the third party technology being used), and agreement. Also, flexibility and alternatives are important in supporting these objectives, since technology can be disrupted”.

To ensure full trust of the client in their communication with their lawyer, 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 it is impossible to guarantee that information shared remotely cannot be compromised.

Andrews also emphasized that practitioners must be able to both identify and resolve any conflicts of interest concerning the parties involved and create an atmosphere in their use of approaches and technology which does not create the perception of conflict of interest. 

These information exchange and disclosure steps enable clients to feel safe and trust in remote communication.

How can lawyers improve communication skills?

Mastering communication will lead your practice to become more enjoyable. If you are communicating well with people, they will trust you and your work. In the end, you will find working with your clients easier and enjoy cooperating with them. Your practice will also be more profitable, because clients will be more likely to continue to work with you. While there are many effective communication skills, we have highlighted the seven key skills to develop.

  1. Be Your Authentic Self.

It is important to be holistic in the way you represent yourself to others. Do not create an online self and an offline self, just be your true self in your online presence. People appreciate the sincerity and openness that is lacking in the age of digital communication.

  1. Practice Active Listening.

One of the biggest steps to becoming a good communicator is becoming a good listener. Practicing active listening helps to build mutual trust as the person you are listening to feels that you are seeking to understand them. Active listening also helps to avoid miscommunications, as you are genuinely more likely to correctly understand what the other person is saying. You can easily incorporate active listening into your conversations with colleagues and clients. One simple step is to always wait to clarify what someone means until they have finished speaking. 

  1. Be persuasive.

The words you use when you communicate with others play a huge role in how others perceive you and interpret your message. Do you often find yourself using words such as “maybe”, or “I guess so”? Start using definitive language like “yes”, “no”, or “I will do that”. This is called leadership language. By incorporating leadership language in your communications your message will become even more powerful and persuasive.

  1. Know your audience.

Formal legal language is not accessible to everyone. If you use an overly formal or archaic language when talking to clients, there is a risk that your core message will get lost. Instead, use plain English and avoid legalese as much as possible.

  1. 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.

 

  1. Be Clear and Concise.

Have you ever talked to someone that rambles on? Most of the time, we tune out. If you want to keep your audience’s attention, the best policy is to convey your message in as few words as possible. So before you speak, ask yourself: What is the core of my message? What is the bottom line? What is relevant? How can I communicate this as simply as possible? 

  1. Be Open. 

Be open to the possibility that you do not have a complete grasp of the problem before it’s been stated and/or that you do not know what the person is going to tell you. It is important that you understand where the person is really coming from before you start to help them. Being open also includes being able to come up with many different ways to look at a problem. Creatively consider different options, ideas, strategies, and courses of action.

Tools for better communication within your team and with clients

“It is more important to understand how to choose appropriate communication tools and which principles to take into account, than to simply provide samples of tools.”

Susan Andrews

Founder and Principal, Andrews Dispute Resolution

For better communication within a lawyer’s team and between a lawyer and their clients, lawyers would benefit from following similar practices to other dispute resolution practitioners: understand the range of the technology platforms and tools available for their work process. Time passes very quickly and, accordingly, the technologies we use change just as quickly. It is important to be able to adapt to change and be able to choose the right tools for your practice.

Security is a significant concern for attorneys during communications in teams or with clients. Attorneys must protect client confidentiality and have an ethical duty to be technologically competent. Therefore, when choosing which technology to use, security should be considered. 

Messaging tools

Some common secure messaging applications that include end-to-end encryption by default are listed below, with Telegram having only optional end-to-end encryption that must be enabled by the user:

  • Signal
  • Pryvate
  • WhatsApp
  • Telegram

These applications could be appropriate for within team communications, and communication between lawyer and client.

Videoconferencing tools

With any video conferencing platform, be sure to check what kind of security the platform offers. In some cases, end-to-end encryption is only available for paid versions, or it might cover messaging but not audio and video conferencing.

Despite being one of the most prolific video conferencing platforms, Zoom has run into privacy issues. For example, Zoom’s end-to-end encryption is available, but only works under certain circumstances and settings. It is possible that Zoom will fully address these issues as use of the platform continues to increase. As Andrews emphasizes, disclosure, technical support, agreement, flexibility, and alternatives are all important to and impact digital communication. The lawyer who includes these considerations in their process will have better communication within their team and with clients.

Conclusion

Communication is the key. Lawyers are professionals who work with both people and the laws. That is why developing communication skills is vitally important for their career growth.

Author Bio – 

Lawyers' Communications In A 'New Normal' - How To Improve Lawyers Communication Skills 3Inna Ptitsyna is PR manager at Lawrina and this article is an extra from the free ebook Lawyer’s Work and Productivity in a New Normal containting 80+ pages of recent researches and brand-new approaches to lawyer’s work, productivity and effective communication in a post-pandemic. 

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