“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it” according to Dwight Eisenhower.
A leader rarely exists in a vacuum. Leaders have to interact with those whom they wish to influence in order to achieve results. That involves effectively communicating with those with whom you wish to interact.
There are so many aspects of the practice of law that are dependent on effective communication that it is difficult to know where to start. Accordingly, perhaps the most important quality of communication is listening. Lawyers often assume that in taking the lead on a file, that they must do most of the talking. Actually we believe the opposite is actually the case.
The most effective lawyers know when to stop talking and to actively listen to the client and absorb not only the verbal messages being delivered by the client but the non-verbal ones as well. By making the client feel truly understood, the lawyer could start out with a strong personal relationship with the client that is the keystone to a successful legal resolution (see Plan above). Once the client feels truly understood they, in turn, will be willing to listen to how you will take the lead and establish the goals for the file.
Communication extends far beyond just the lawyer – client relationship. Good communication is necessary on a daily basis with your partners, your associates, your staff and with others.
Your retainer agreement is an exercise in communication – it should not only lay out the necessary legal boilerplate but it should also shape client expectations, it should establish your roadmap for the file (the anticipated legal steps to be taken) and it should reinforce the subtle message to your client that there are expectations for them to meet to keep the file moving.
Your fee invoice and letters to your client are all communication tools – do you clearly set forth the results that you have achieved for your client and your value as a lawyer? Do you bill promptly and often – indicating that you are working constantly on the file and have your client’s needs and goals in mind?
Does your compensation agreement with your partners communicate the goals that are to be met by rewarding the right behaviour? Many firms do not reward knowledge sharing, mentoring or firm governance in their compensation agreements – reinforcing the negative message that these goals are not important to the firm.
Of course, exactly the opposite is true – young lawyers grow into successful partners quicker if they are properly mentored and nurtured. Knowledge sharing (vs knowledge hoarding) benefits the overall profitability of the firm. Proper firm governance allows the firm to be professionally and responsibly run – which benefits everyone in the firm.
Communication is at the heart of the marketing of the firm and of any particular practice. Your web page, blog, twitter posts, facebook or LinkedIn presence all communicate volumes about your practice and your firm.
Take a moment and look at the web page of a very successful firm that practices in your target market and critically compare it to yours. Look for underlying messages – particularly ones related to leadership, planning and communication. Chances are you will see one or more of these messages being expressed in subtle ways that positively reinforce a client’s comfort level in choosing this firm.