November 30, 2013

Message Received.

The textbook comments that five common objects for legal communication are to understand, to explain and advise, to negotiate, to advocate and to persuade.[1]

For me to be able to understand a client, I need to make them feel comfortable and act in a manner so as to promote a trustworthy attitude and personality.  Once they feel at ease to provide me with the information needed, I will be able to ascertain their perception of the issue at hand.[2]  Another great way to assist in understanding the message that a client or colleague is trying to impart, is to exercise active listening.  I feel that this is a very effective tool to show people that you are hearing them.

Ask questions.  Double-check and confirm instructions.  Clarify your understanding of what has just been communicated.  Use attentive body language.  Respond and comment to what is being said.[3]

I must also be mindful of adjusting my communication techniques where the way I am communicating is not suitable for the particular person I may be communicating with (i.e. if English is not their first language, if they have literacy problems, they may be of a different culture or may not understand formal legal language).[4]  It may be that I am required to communicate complex legal issues in plain and simple English and I must have the flexibility and skills to do so.[5]

Effectively understanding what is being conveyed to me will help me to explain the legal issues to my client and advise them in a clear and concise manner.  While a thorough knowledge and diligent research of the law is required to advise a client accurately about their legal rights and obligations, there are many other aspects to explaining and advising.[6]  Communication skills are vital.  The textbook mentions that it is important to be clear with clients about realistic expectations in regards to the outcome of their matter.[7]  I would not want to lead a client on with the belief that they are absolutely acting reasonably by suing an entity for millions of dollars, and that they can expect to receive every penny that they assume they are owed, when it is obvious to me that it is a pipedream.  Lawyers need to be aware of the client’s desired outcome, or goal of their legal action, but being a competent advisor means letting a client know when these goals are unreasonable or unrealistic.

This leads me to another important part of explaining and advising clients.  Show empathy.  If a person requires legal advice and assistance, majority of the time, this person is not experiencing the highlight of their life.[8]  There is a fine line between showing empathy and becoming emotionally involved, and as a legal professional it is important not to become emotionally involved.  But showing genuine empathy will ensure the client feels that they have been heard and respected and will create a professional relationship based on trust and rapport.[9]

To negotiate effectively, knowledge of the client’s desired outcome is required.  Determine what the client would ideally like to achieve, and once it has been established whether it is realistic, work toward that goal.[10]  There are different types of negotiation and it would prudent to establish which approach is likely going to achieve the desired outcome.  Particularly in alternate dispute resolution, an interest-based approach would be used to provide the most mutually satisfactory outcome for the parties involved.[11]

Legal advocacy is normally performed in a courtroom.[12]  Personally, I am not interested in becoming a barrister, but advocacy is definitely a valuable quality to learn and practice, and something that will be useful in other areas of the legal profession.  The main point I got from the textbook regarding being a good advocate is to be well prepared.[13]  Research the case and related topics so that you have a thorough understanding of the facts.[14]  Plan the structure of your argument.[15]  Practice your argument.[16]  Know the substantive law and the procedural rules of the applicable jurisdiction.[17]

The textbook highlights the point that both negotiation and advocacy share a common integral aim – to persuade.[18]  This is definitely a skill I would love to sharpen.  I am eager to learn and quickly recognise logical fallacies so that I am able to avoid using them in my arguments.  The ability to recognise these fallacies will also enable me to identify flaws in arguments against my position.  This skill will also then help to make my argument more convincing to others, and will build trust and a credible reputation with clients and colleagues, as they will be able to see that my arguments are based on facts and sound reasoning.[19]  And what can be more persuading than fact?

I am determined to communicate well in both verbal and written form, to convey my message clearly and concisely, and to ultimately be an effective, appropriate and persuasive legal communicator.

[1] Nikolas James and Rachael Field, The New Lawyer (John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd, 2013) 309.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid 326.
[4] Ibid 315.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid 310.
[7] Ibid 311.
[8] Ibid 328.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid 311.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid 312.
[13] Ibid 313.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid 314.
[19] Ibid.