Communication is an art rather than a science, and effective communication skills are essential to the practice of law. For young associates, adequate communication skills can be critical to their success in the legal field. Here are few tips for young associates to enhance their communications with clients, colleagues, opposing counsel, and courts.
Communicating with Clients
The touchstone of client service is effective communication. Young attorneys often operate from a place of enthusiasm and excitement without adequately establishing reasonable timelines and expectations based upon the case’s facts. However, a key to successfully managing client expectations is to assess all relevant data to convey an objective, realistic picture of potential outcomes and hurdles. While establishing timelines can be a challenge, calendaring tasks to meet anticipated deadlines and looking to the life cycle of other, similar cases may help to inform those expectations. In short, do not let passion overcome reason.
Communicating with Colleagues
Effective communication with colleagues may require substantial flexibility. As a young associate, you are often required to assist multiple attorneys. As a result, you are faced with tackling multiple personality types and styles of practice. The key to success here is adaptability. Be flexible, do not be afraid to ask questions, and look to your colleagues’ past work product to discern their preferences and practice styles. Also, do not get involved with office gossip. You have plenty to learn as a young associate and the last thing you want to do is be intertwined in office drama.
Communicating with Opposing Counsel
Communicating with opposing counsel can often be challenging, especially as a young associate. Seasoned opposing counsel can sense a young associate like a shark can sense blood in the water. They may employ tactics such as trying to either be your friend or bully you. It is important to be courteous, professional, and cooperative; but do not be afraid to set limits and zealously advocate for your client. In setting those boundaries, keep in mind the goals of your case and which measures will ultimately serve your client’s best interest. Also, when opposing counsel asks you to commit to a position on an issue, it is often wise to tell them that you need to confer with your client and/or co-counsel before offering an official response. It is standard practice to consult your client and/or co-counsel before making agreements. This also allows you to be responsive, but not rushed into decisions you may later regret.