The new laws of communication

One of the most under-rated and under-trained skills in legal education and the workplace is everyday garden variety communication – nothing scholarly, nothing sophisticated, just the sort of communication that connects people to people without pretence and makes it easy to do business. Yet it’s no secret many lawyers would much prefer to use complex language in the context of their work to illustrate their smarts. After all, they are highly educated, intelligent and articulate so why shouldn’t they show it off a little?

This premise may have been ok in the past but in today’s world, it’s far from the best truth. Going forward, while the desire to sprout knowledge is commendable, the need to increase communication is critical.

However without training in the art of how to keep things simple, many lawyers suffer the legal condition known as ‘premature exasperation’ – whereby they get frustrated, bored or impatient with clients or staff who in their view fall tragically short of their expectations.

This view creates a whole new series of problems as the client of old is certainly not the client of today or tomorrow.

Today’s clients want and expect a dynamic relationship and ongoing exchange with the lawyer and firm they engage. They want the legal jargon and formality dropped and replaced with conversations that are more inclusive, more engaging and open. They want their lawyer to listen carefully to what they say as much as they want them to listen out for what is not being said.

Clients want experiences that make them ‘feel’ like their lawyer truly has their back not just their wallet.

So much so that clients are now controlling the relationship and communication is the new Law. Break it and you’re a click away from obsolescence.

However it’s not that easy for lawyers or practitioners who have never had to rely on building and caring for relationships or communication to be successful. Clients use to come to the firm, now the firms have to go to the clients.

Many are suddenly finding themselves lost for words as clients are no longer interested in their brilliant banter and more interested in why they should do business with you.

Take the real-life example of how poor communication and an even poorer attitude gave one very experienced lawyer an experience he didn’t expect nor understood until it was too late.

Harvey, a 52-year-old Partner in a mid-tier firm specialising in M&A was approached by his good buddy Geoff asking him to meet with Matt, a young entrepreneur who had launched a new start-up and was looking to engage a firm to ensure its legal obligations and position.

Harvey reluctantly agreed to see him but felt it a waste of his expertise and it would be something for one of the Associates in the firm. In the first 10 minutes of the meeting, Harvey gave off an air of arrogance, didn’t listen well (which proved fatal ) and was just about to refer him on when Matt showed him the balance sheet and projections for the next 3 years. Harvey took a double-take, recognised what he was seeing had tremendous potential and switched his focus more intently on converting him to a client. He told Matt he would be happy to look after him and counted on his consent.

However what he didn’t count on was his reply saying “I didn’t come here to give you my business, I came here to find out why I should – and from what you have told me so far I don’t feel you have communicated anything to me that validates that”.

Harvey was lost for words. He didn’t have an answer that Matt found compelling or even of value and as a consequence of poor communication and unfavourable bias a lot of money was left on the table that day.

Upon reflection, Harvey conceded he missed opportunities and lost deals in the past and this was an uncomfortable truth.

If Harvey had used simple communication skills – including respect and acknowledgment he could have brought in a brilliant new client.

If you want to win more corporate business and build better relationships it is not too late to learn communication and behavioural skills. So the next time you ‘pooh-pooh’ a course in communication that comes your way, just think about Harvey and invest in yourself and your firm.

Interested to learn more? Start now by contacting us to discover how we customise our leadership and communication programs for legal firms.