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Law Firm Coach: The great communication gap

The most popular course or presentation requested through Catalyst is our “Lawyers Are From Mars” series.
The presentation focuses on ways to have effective communication between lawyers and non-lawyers. We believe the course is popular because we get down to the nuts and bolts of how to communicate within law firms and why so much is lost in the translation.
We see both lawyers and staff having “ah-ha!” moments.
In creating work-culture magic in law firms, it begins and ends with communication. Communication is the exchange of information (ideas and thoughts) using a system of symbols, signs, behavior or words.
The hope is that the person we are communicating with will understand our idea or thought. It is possible for each of us to claim that we have understood, and yet neither heard the other.
We shudder to think about how much lost time and energy occurs because of a misunderstanding.
We communicate because we want something. In our personal lives, we want food, shelter, love, acceptance, friendship, etc. In our professional lives, we want to have things done with the least amount of problems and with the greatest deal of accuracy and timeliness that we can obtain.
Of extreme importance to lawyers is the ability to effectively communicate with the client. We rate the ability to communicate as the highest soft skill required in leadership.
To communicate, we have to develop an understanding. Our communications can inform, convince, persuade or entertain.
The ideal result is that you shared what you know, think or believe with someone and you got them to understand it as well as you do. If not, you did not communicate effectively.
We communicate all the time, intentionally or not, by our actions, dress and talk. We often fail in our attempts to communicate because we did not take the time to understand the person we were trying to communicate with.
Sometimes we do not even understand our own values, experiences or emotions. What do you think would happen if the values of the listener were violated as you tried to communicate? This happens more often than you may think.
To communicate you must first understand. Set the stage to obtain the best results. Take into account your expectations and the importance of your message.
Your message will include your tone of voice, your body language, eye contact, as well as your words. The actual message is only a part of what is delivered.
In addition to all that, consider how the message is being delivered (face-to-face, voice alone, e-mail, written, or voice and video). Considering all the elements of the message, face-to-face would be the most effective.
E-mail is replacing verbal communication in the workplace, and we are losing our ability to see reactions and show people our pro-action.
Consider how much of what we say is lost because we cannot see or show facial expressions, tone of voice and body language. Although e-mail can move information, do not assume that there was an understanding.
We recently saw an article in a business magazine that mentioned a company that created Friday as no e-mail day just to force people to talk with each other.
Any business will have a lot of critical communications. It is important that we break down any barriers that would prevent good communications.
The next time you have an urgent communication think of these factors:
* What are my expectations once I deliver the communication?
* What is the best form of communication; verbal, e-mail, etc.?
* Do I know the recipient enough to understand how he or she will process the communication based upon their experiences and skills?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, once the communication is delivered, ask for feedback to make sure there is a clear understanding between the sender and the receiver. When all is said and done, were your expectations met?

Editor’s note: Leone and Favor are principals of Catalyst Group, Inc., a national professional development company in Raleigh, with emphasis on law firms through values-based management and high-performance training. You can get more practice tips by going to or visit their Web site at

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