Week 5 – Communication, Collaboration, Self-Management
In the legal profession, just like with any profession, communication and collaboration with others is key. However, just like with professions such as customer service and education, the being able communicate and collaborate effectively with your clients make the different being success and failure. To succeed in the legal profession, you have to have excellent oral and verbal skills. That does not simply mean that you can read, write and speak English. You need to be able to clearly and concisely convey legal advice to your client in a manner understandable to them. You need to be able to present an argument to a judge and jury that persuades them to make a judgement that favours your client. You may need to negotiate with other parties to come to a mutually agreeable outcome, or to push your client’s interests, depending on the circumstances. You may even need to negotiate with your client, as their legal standing may not be what they have in mind. You need to be able to advocate for your client. This requires you to determine what the relevant facts of the matter are, what legislation is relevant, and specific courtroom procedures and rules of evidence.
In order to do your job, you need to have a clear idea as to who your audience is, and how to best communicate with them. For example, in a courtroom – your primary audience is the judge – not the clerk, not the other lawyer. The judge will make the decision on the case, so it is the judge your need to persuade and convince to make a favourable decision. Once you know your audience, you can then make changes to how you communicate to take into account their age, their level of education, their professional background, cultural and religious beliefs, or other biases that may be of relevance. Depending on the audience, you may use techniques such as summarising what they’ve said to ensure understanding and identify any gaps. You might use open ended questions, or perhaps closed questions are more appropriate. Using active listening and the ACTIVES skills will take you a long way. You also need to demonstrate empathy, as this will make your client more comfortable, more likely to disclose all the facts, and improve client satisfaction. In written communication, good grammar, plain English, headings and planning are the key points to remember. That and short sentences are good. And John does not like dot points.
On the topic of collaboration, I can’t say I learnt anything new. I have been involved in a few clubs in either membership or executive roles, have worked on group assessments and in team environments in the past. I suppose the important take home message is to always put in more than you intent to get out. That way everyone benefits. Having a clear idea as to goals, responsibilities, tasks and completion dates is important. Having regular meetings and specific goals or milestones to be able to report on at those meetings is effective. Plus simply keeping open the communications channels so that if a team member gets stuck, they feel comfortable asking for help.
The second chapter of this week’s reading was all about protecting our own well-being, and ensuring that there is an equal balance between study/work and family and ‘me’ time. If there is not enough ‘down-time’ then the chances of burning out are high, and you are of no benefit to anyone, let alone yourself! In other words, make sure you get enough sleep, have a hobby, and a good support network to help you!