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Professional Development

How Lawyers Can Communicate Effectively and with Civility

Cpt. Louis D. Brooks

How Lawyers Can Communicate Effectively and with Civility
courtneyk via iStock

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Approach communications, whether written or oral, with empathy and respect. Empathic communication means placing yourself in the shoes of the person at the receiving end of my communication. A proclivity for respect and showing empathy is interwoven into the idea of what many refer to as the golden rule. The golden rule directs us to treat others in a way that we would like to be treated—in other words, to treat everyone with the same amount of respect that we would like to receive.

To respect someone is to show regard or consideration for that person’s well-being. Empathy allows us to consider a person’s background and lived experiences without pretending to know more about that person than we do. In essence, mutual respect is fostered when we combine empathy and respect in communicating with others.

Adjust to Your Audience

Communicating in a manner your audience can understand is an absolute requirement of empathic and respectful communication. Empathy informs me that I will likely need to approach a conversation differently with a client than with a colleague. This is true in the legal field and particularly as an Army attorney. It is incumbent on me to be aware that a client may not be familiar with Army-specific acronyms or much of the legal jargon we, as attorneys, are comfortable using when speaking amongst each other. As such, out of respect for my clients and a desire to ensure that they completely understand all their options, I may utilize a different vocabulary when speaking with a client than I would when speaking with a colleague.

Use the Appropriate Level of Detail

Respect your colleagues’ time by using clear and concise communication. My colleagues and I are often busy during the work week, meeting with clients and reviewing and preparing case details. Each minute wasted is a minute that could have been spent helping a client or furthering the mastery of our practice. As such, when communicating with colleagues, I usually start with what we call in the Army the “BLUF” (Bottom Line Up Front). Communicating succinctly with colleagues honors their busy schedules and demonstrates my respect for their time. This concept also reminds me of a lesson taught to me by my grandfather, summed up in a simple phrase, “tell me about what you’ve done, don’t tell me about what you’re going to do.” So, for example, when a colleague or supervisor emails me for an update about a case, I refuse to clog up their email by sending a response such as, “sure, let me check on that for you,” instead I aim to go ahead and check on it and then respond to them with the update.

Much like the change in vocabulary, modify the nature of communications when directed to a client. A client may need the additional information you would otherwise omit with a colleague. For example, you may need to walk a client through the process from start to finish while being completely transparent about what the client may expect moving forward. Ensuring you provide clients with all the necessary information helps ease any concerns they might have from their lack of familiarity with the legal system.

Always Begin with Empathy and Respect

Effective and civil communication will always begin with empathy and respect. It is important that these tenets of effective and civil communication be utilized so that you can be most effective when communicating with clients and representing your client’s interests. If you can incorporate these aspects of effective and civil communication, you should not run into any issues when expressing yourself via written or oral communication.