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Better Listening Skills Make Better Lawyers

“Nature has given us one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus

Communication is a fundamental aspect of work in the legal profession. Often we take the process for granted. Effective communication is part of what makes for success and satisfaction. Lawyers often see their job as getting to a solution-fast.

Consider the components of communication-listening, talking, reading, and writing-and the amount of time spent on each of these tasks.

Successful communicating includes the ability to:

  • listen effectively
  • speak persuasively
  • write clearly and convincingly
  • develop rapport with clients

Lawyers are very good at collecting facts, expressing opinions, and presenting arguments. The most successful careers are based on positive relationships with clients in addition to these technical skills. Surveys have shown that what clients look for in lawyers goes well beyond technical proficiency and includes a sense that the lawyer cares about their problems. In law school you were taught to advocate but probably you were not told that the roots of successful advocacy are in listening. The art of listening and development of active listening skills can make for more satisfying work and happier clients and lawyers.

Active Listening

If you would like to improve your listening skills try the following active listening exercise:

Step 1: Listen to the client’s description of the matter.

Step 2: Restate his/her premise as you understand it and ask for confirmation.

Step 3: Ask open-ended follow up questions.

Step 4: If the client expresses emotions either directly or indirectly acknowledge the feelings.

Step 5: At the end of the appointment ask if there is anything else he/she would like to say.

Did you Know?

If you have a high IQ you are more challenged to listen. It is reported that those with high intelligence comprehend words three or four times as fast as the average person talks. One barrier to listening is getting bored. Another is the rush to get on with things and planning the next strategy and legal solution.

Remember-The 10 Rules for Good Listening

1.  Stop talking

2. Put the talker at ease

3. Indicate that you want to listen (look interested)

4. Remove distractions

5. Empathize with the client

6. Be patient

7. Hold your temper

8. Avoid argument and criticism

9. Ask questions to clarify

10. Stop talking

“Like breathing, listening is something we all do, but by doing it consciously, we can make a tremendous difference in our lives and the lives of others.” Steven Keeva

– By Leota Embleton

Leota Embleton is the program manager of the Ontario Bar Assistance Program. This article is reprinted with permission and originally appeared in The Advocates’ Brief, February 2003.

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