Lawyers Ahoy-Hoy: Six Tips for Better Telephone Calls

Like fashion, communication methods evolve, change, and sometimes come back again. During the twentieth century, telephones became ubiquitous, largely replacing the need for written telegrams and letters. Today, that trend has reversed, with text messages and e-mail the dominant and preferred method of communication in many contexts, especially with younger generations.

But effective telephone communication is a skill that can atrophy as we use it less in our daily lives. As such, here are six things to consider before picking up that antiquated telephone contraption.

1. Prepare
Preparing for a call ensures that key points and issues will be discussed and will keep the conversation on track. Preparing might mean thinking about the call for a couple minutes, jotting down an outline, or thinking of specific language for sensitive topics.

2. Protect
Before taking a confidential call on your cell phone, find a private place to have the conversation or, if possible, wait until returning to the office.

3. Listen
Active listening cues, such as vocal acknowledgements or positive affirmations of understanding, can help keep conversations positive and effective.

4. Control
Excessive volume (see: yelling) is always a potential problem when contentious matters are at issue. If the other side lets their passions inform their volume, it’s okay to calmly inform them that they are yelling and ask them to stop (especially if it’s not a client).

5. Articulate
If your call is sent to voicemail, it’s a good idea to hang-up, compose the message you want to leave, and then call back. Clearly state the reason for the call, whether you will call back, give and spell your name, and provide a number at which you can be reached (and then repeat it for good measure).

6. Memorialize
Always make a written record of a phone conversation with clients or opposing counsel, either in a personal memo or follow-up email. Habitually doing so can prevent serious headaches and malpractice claims down the road.

Shawn Erker (@ShawnErker) is Legal Writer & Content Manager at LAWPRO.

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