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What we (usually) have is a failure to communicate

One thing about being a lawyer is you have plenty of chances to try your hand at communication.  Every aspect of the practice of law involves conveying ideas, arguments, observations.  This is done in writing, and orally (e.g. speaking), but always verbally (e.g. with 'words').

Good communicators know that there is a difference between the word 'orally' and 'verbally.'  

Still, there is a lot more to good communication than knowing usage rules and grammar.  A lot of people get into arguments or misunderstandings because they are trapped in a cycle of poor communication. I'm not about to claim that having a law degree makes you a better communicator, but as I said at the outset, it gives you the opportunity to communicate in a variety of settings.

And I'm not going to claim that my communication skills are finely honed. I don't know how my skills compare to others.  I only know that they can be improved and I keep trying to improve them.

The first step for me to improve my skills is to recognize when I fail to communicate effectively. And this has always been the hardest step. After all, it's not easy to admit that you might have done a less than optimal job of conveying your point. Like most people, I tend to believe that I am always being perfectly clear. And I tend to believe that I've made my point with the proper tone, and with the proper set up.

See, that's the thing: it's not just about being clear in what you say.  You also have take the right approach. If you use an angry tone when you say something perfectly rational it will come across the wrong way and your audience will not understand. I struggle often with this issue, and I know that other people do too.

So, if you want to communicate effectively you need to listen first. You need to see what folks want to hear, what they're capable of understanding.  You need to find a way to appeal to their sensibilities.  And then you need to make your point clearly, and succinctly. If you do all of that you might be understood.

But, if you simply want to unburden yourself of thoughts and emotions as pop into your head, you will not communicate. If you cannot bring yourself to reflect on how someone else might see things then you will only communicate with people who see the world exactly the way you do.  In other words, you will waste a lot of time going through a fruitless exercise.

Some people walk around and mutter to themselves. We tend to think those people are crazy, and they may well be. But there are a lot of seemingly rational people who are actually just as hopeless.

If you want to talk you should be ready to listen, and then have a strategy for making your point. Unless you only want to talk to yourself, that is.

P.S. If you're a practicing lawyer, check out this Law Practice Assessment . After answering a few questions, you'll get detailed recommendations for improving five key areas of your practice.


  • Definitely agree with you. So many people today just don’t listen. The world would a MUCH better place if people just took the time to really listen to other people, rather then have selective hearing about what they want to hear.

  • Paula Stone says:

    Learning to listen and see other points of view is essential to understanding. In order to listen one must hush up and pay attention.But what do you think of obfuscation, the deliberate attempt to confuse and mystify? People actually have jobs to do this. It was always out there but it seems more common now than ever, especially in communications from big business.

  • Ernie- What an honest humble look. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck striving to become better. What an example for the rest of us to follow!

  • karen says:

    Good post, good communication skills are always key in any kind of situation.Thanks for sharing

  • Good point on listening, I see you mentioned it more than once. Without listening how can we respond in a effective manner. Body language plays a bigger role in communication than most people realize as well.

  • Robin Riley says:

    ErnieI would like lawyers make more use of visual communication techniques (not necessarily power point). Some do and there is now a small industry that provides lawyers with visual backup. But probably it’s best the lawyer do it themselves. See, Robin

  • Rich Cassidy says:

    Ernie,Nice post and good point. More than 15 years ago, I was invited to join my U.S. District Court’s Early Neutral Evaluation panel, and took some basic training in mediation.The communication skills that you are talking about are very much what mediation is all about.Unlike many lawyer/mediators, I haven’t given up lawyering to become a full time mediator (although I suppose some day I might).But I have continued to serve as a mediator, attend mediation trainings, and read and think about the mediation process. I really enjoy it.But that is not the point of this comment. The point is that learning mediation skills has affected my work as a advocate, and done so in a very postive way.You are right. If you want to be heard you must learn to listen first and to think about how to deliver your message in a way that can be heard.Thanks,

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