Communication Skills

We start communicating the moment we are born. As we grow, we develop a communication toolkit, and we:
  • come to appreciate the effect that tone and content have on meaning and how our communications are received;
  • learn to appreciate silence and non-verbal communication;
  • develop fluency with written communication; and
  • understand the rules that govern communication in our society, including distinguishing communications that are considered acceptable from communications that fall below the societal norm.
Lawyers provide information services, and so effective communication skills are an important characteristic of good lawyers. Many of the complaints the Law Society receives could have been avoided (or dismissed) if the lawyer who is the subject of the complaint had:
  • listened to his or her client in order to understand the client’s needs, and determined whether the client was a good match for the lawyer’s experience, skill set, personality and style of practice;
  • advised the client (in realistic and clear terms) of the potential outcomes of, and potential costs associated with, the legal services;
  • told the client what the lawyer would do, and would not do, and kept his or her word;
  • established an understanding with the client regarding future communications between them (both the preferred method of communication, and the lawyer’s process for responding to communications in a timely fashion);
  • confirmed his or her understanding of the existence and scope of the retainer by way of a written retainer, or if not retained, by sending a non-engagement letter;
  • kept the client informed of progress on the file, even if to explain why matters have been delayed or temporarily suspended;
  • responded promptly to communications from his or her client, other lawyers, the Law Society and interested parties;
  • ensured that the tone and content of every communication was civil, and limited to relevant matters;
  • avoided delay in billing, and ensured that bills were fully explained; and
  • managed his or her client’s expectations.
Lawyers who fail to keep their clients informed, and who ignore communications from opposing counsel and from the Law Society, (perhaps arising from a complaint from both the client and the other lawyer) are not acting in accordance with the standards of the legal profession. 
In addition to the professional imperative to communicate effectively, there is also a practical imperative to do so. Lawyers are subject to numerous stereotypes, many of them negative. Consequently, few people approach a lawyer without a set of assumptions and perceptions already in place. Poor communication skills diminish your standing within the profession and reinforce the public’s negative perception of the entire profession. There is no practical benefit to such behaviour, and the harm associated with it is very real. The best opportunity you have to overcome negative perceptions is to adhere to a higher standard of conduct and communication.