Category: Client development

Client developmentEmotional intelligenceLegal communicationPeople skills

Listening under the influence

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Flickr/Keoni Cabral/CC by 2.0

What is the effect of drinking on listening skills?

This matters for lawyers who will be networking over a glass of wine or taking clients to dinner where alcohol is served. What appears to be a still-valid 1975 psychiatric study predicted that drinking would have a variety of effects on communication:

In a group setting, low to moderate doses of alcohol would increase the amount of verbal communication, increase disruptions in communication, and decrease the level of acknowledgment of the other speaker’s communication.

This hypothesis was indeed supported by the study, a study with a most interesting protocol.

Participating couples (married or good friends for several months, and between the ages of 21-30) showed up a testing facility for an afternoon of mild intoxication and testing, or a placebo event. They consumed a “low dose” of either “80-proof vodka in a peppermint-flavored cocktail” or “the masking cocktail without vodka.” In the low-dose experiment, women drank .83 ml per kg of weight, so (after a bit of math) about 1.4 ounces for a 110-pound woman. Men drank 1 ml per kg of weight, so 2.7 ounces for a 175-pound man. In sessions separated by about a week, they tested the other option. And some test subjects came back for another alcohol test at 1.5ml per kg of weight.

After consuming the alcohol, they did some coordination tests and then a 20-minute conversation session. The second 10 minutes of the conversation were transcribed for study. Then participants were “fed and detained” until signs of intoxication wore off, and driven home.

The study’s main finding seems fairly intuitive:

Overall, alcohol appeared to make social communication more disorganized and intoxicated subjects seemed less likely to follow conventional rules of etiquette in their speech.

The specific behavioral findings were a little more complex. The study found “an increase in the amount of interrupting or overlapping speech” that was even more pronounced with the higher dose. Essentially: the more you drink, the more you interrupt.

Separately, the study found with the low dose, participants talked more in the sense of initiating more conversations, and used more words. With the higher dose, these trends reversed. Thus the more intoxicated participants interrupted more but used fewer words and started fewer conversations. And there was a modest but noticeable effect on what the study called acknowledgment, or “the degree to which [a statement] responds, in terms of the content and intent” to the prior statement.

The study authors weren’t exactly sure how these effects happened. They could be from the “disinhibition” and “egocentricity” of drinking, or they could be from “decreased auditory discrimination” and “impaired memory” which had been proven in a similar previous experiment. 

The authors recommended further study. They also ended with a caveat on the “dyadic” setup of the study—meaning just two people speaking one-on-one to each other. The one-on-one setup may have made it relatively easier for participants to maintain the conversation. They noted prior work showing alcohol diminishes participants’ ability to hear complex auditory stimuli. Thus they suspected that intoxicated participants would show greater impairment, relative to the placebo, in a more complicated social situation with more people. Something like an attorney networking event, perhaps.

Postscript to this research: Here’s a 2004 master’s thesis on “alcohol in social context.” The study gathered 54 men (strangers) and assigned them to groups of three, then served them alcohol or a placebo while they stayed seated in their groups for 30 minutes. The study assessed their social behavior and emotional states, finding that the drinking groups did not necessarily talk more on a word count basis, but did engage in more socially coordinated communication within the group. In other words, more members of the group contributed to talk within the group as a whole. The study author reported mild surprise that study participants did not report “improved affect” or a better mood after the experiment. The author suggested that the participants may not have enjoyed the forced interaction of drinking and socializing with strangers. This brings us full circle back to networking.

What are the implications for attorneys who want to drink while still communicating effectively?

Above the Law’s Elie Mystal has some classic advice: “You have to know yourself and what constitutes ‘tipsy’ for you.” Some more excellent advice: “when it starts to feel more like a party and less like work, leave.”

He was writing in 2012 about alcohol and networking, prompted by a Greedy Associates’ post with a “Drink-by-Drink Guide for Networking Events.” Instead of “5 Tips for Networking,” that post organized itself around a sequence of five hypothetical “drinks” from the first drink (“the icebreaker”) to the fifth drink (essentially, go home and send a bunch of LinkedIn invitations). The strategy for the “third drink” was to “shut up and listen” by “resist[ing] the urge to talk about yourself the whole night.”

The Greedy Associates’ post wasn’t actually encouraging networking lawyers to consume five drinks at any networking event. And that is a good thing. One takeaway from the present post is the following: if you get to that third drink too fast, shutting up and listening is probably not going to be an easy option.

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Any article on attorneys and alcohol consumption would be incomplete without noting the study released just in the past week about substance abuse among attorneys. “The level of problem drinking and mental health problems in the legal profession appear to be higher than indicated by previous studies,” reported the ABA Journal. Self-reported problem drinking was at 20.4 percent of the profession. Behavioral questions revealed problem drinking among 36.4 percent of the profession. The ABA article ended in calls for help such as training, mentoring, and bar assistance programs. 

Client developmentEmotional intelligenceFact investigationLegal communicationPeople skills

Speaking “business”

Listen Like a Lawyer is a fan of several lawyers who write and blog in ways that touch on listening skills, including but not limited to* Jeena Cho, Keith Lee, Lee Rosen, and Pam Woldow. Another highly, highly recommended blog resource on listening and lawyering is this six-part series from Mark Perlmutter on Trebuchet Legal.

And then there is Kenneth Grady, who writes at Seytlines (for Seyfarth Shaw) and often on Medium. His Medium post today, 5 Reasons to Become a Doctor Dolittle of Lawyer-Client Communications, should be read by any lawyer who interacts with business clients in any way.

Let me repeat that: if you are a lawyer and you ever deal with any client that runs a business, works for a business, or has a background or connection remotely related to business, read this post.

Years ago when I was a summer associate in my first week at a firm, my partner mentor shared the same advice he gave to all new and aspiring attorneys at the time: take more business classes. Now almost 20 years later, Ken’s post updates and magnifies this sentiment, pointing out that the gulf between attorneys and business clients has widened into an even broader gap. And it’s not something one class (or CLE, or blog post) can fix. It’s a cultural chasm, and those who bridge it will succeed.

One thing I really like about Ken’s post is how it presents real-world situations for lawyers to understand the more abstract yet crucial lessons of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. (This book popularized the finding that Israeli parole judges made different decisions depending on whether they were about to eat lunch, or had just eaten lunch.) Are lawyers guilty of retreating to their legal comfort zone? Do lawyers give easy answers to the wrong questions? Trying to understand a client’s real business issue, explore options, and perhaps create new options is certainly more difficult than quickly selecting and suggesting a commonplace legal approach.

(Thoughts on Thinking, Fast and Slow in the context of listening can be found on this blog here and here and here. Keith Lee also shared advice on getting to know your business client in his book for new attorneys, The Marble and Sculptor, reviewed on the blog here.)

Ken’s post touches on listening in a number of ways both abstract and specific. It exhorts lawyers to learn to “speak business” so they can truly understand their clients and help solve their problems. Of course that does not mean adopting the business buzz words that generate so much mocking. (For a more serious and historical insight into business jargon, see this article from The Atlantic.) Speaking business means tearing down—and not incrementally rebuilding—the “artificial ‘law versus business’ wall.”

One of the post’s anecdotes sums up the techniques and benefits of listening in a way that applies to all client conversations, whether corporate or individual. Its message of listening and problem-solving is a fitting close to this post:

One manager approached me with a request that our company immediately bring a lawsuit against a business partner for breaching a contract. Rather than discussing the lawsuit, we talked about the contract and the relationship. After a long conversation, the client opened up and explained that he had misread the contract years ago and had been overpaying the other party to the contract. The business person on the other side came into the relationship after the contract had been signed and just accepted the payments without checking the contract. After investigating a bit further, I called the general counsel of the other party and we were able to work out a solution fairly quickly.

  • This short list was not meant to be exhaustive; please share suggestions on other bloggers who consistently touch on communication issues for lawyers.
Client developmentCollaborationEmotional intelligenceLaw firm marketingPeople skills

Listening until it hurts

Recently I tried a workout at Orangetheory. This is a relatively new exercise franchise offering intense one-hour workouts with running, rowing, lifting, and uncountable numbers of crunches. Everyone wears a heart monitor, and throughout the workout you can check out the monitor to see just how hard you and your heart are working—as well as everybody else in the class.

I was nervous to try a new workout, but every time I glanced up there, my score was green. Green is good, right? It’s aerobic, and aerobic is good, right?

Actually no.

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To score points in the Orangetheory workout, you have to go beyond green. You have to get into the “orange zone” (thus the franchise name, I suppose) or even the red zone. That means not walking, not jogging, not running at a steady clip. That means sprinting, and panting, and gasping for breath.

You get lots of points for orange and red. Not so much for green.

At the end of the workout, the guy next to me had scored 24 points and I got 6. He crushed me even though he appeared to be near exhaustion the entire time. He crushed me because he appeared to be near exhaustion the entire time.

As I pondered this failure, I wondered whether the lesson might to listening as well.

It seems likely that many of us are sailing comfortably along with our listening and other communication skills. Of course we’re putting out effort. We make eye contact. We use active-listening techniques to paraphrase back important nuggets of the conversation and move it forward. We take notes unobtrusively and follow up with e-mail confirmations.

We’re in the green zone of listening.

What would it look like to move into the orange or even red zone?

Listening is a receptive communication channel (like reading, and in contrast to writing and speaking). To design an Orangetheory program for listening, we would need to raise the intensity level quite a bit. It’s not about trying a little harder on one or two points all the time. It’s taking a short amount of time to listen, radically.

But how would we know that someone was working in the high-intensity range of this receptive skill?

Maybe by measuring the proportion of time spent talking to listening. There is a natural give and take in conversations, but if you’re talking and listening comfortably—for you, subjectively—you may be malingering in the green zone. (See Mark Goulston on “How to Know If You Talk Too Much.”)

Some have suggested an 80-20 rule of focusing on the other person. Steve Yastrow, who writes about improvisation techniques for marketing, says to keep the focus 95 percent about the other person. That is red zone material. That’s hard.

Maybe the mindfulness of the listener to what the speaker is saying. There’s no “brain monitor” for focus—at least no affordable one—but theoretically if the listener’s mind is filled with what to say next and what to eat for dinner, that may not even be in the green zone of listening. It could be the dreaded blue zone, which is literally the zone of pointlessness in Orangetheory because you score no points.

Red-zone listening takes in information in a powerful and efficient way. At the front end of the listening process, focus and memory are as crucial as body strength and VO² max are to powerful workouts.

Maybe one key metric would be whether—and to what extent—the listener feels he or she is actually being listened to.

One reality of exercise and mental processes is that they work only to exhaustion. Attention is a muscle that can be depleted. The body and mind together can be depleted. (Read anything by Daniel Kahneman’s work, or anything about his work. In a study of parole decisions, judges made harsher decisions when they were hungry and tired after hearing several cases.)

But the concept behind any program like Orangetheory is to build capacity by stressing the body. The stress has to be appropriate, but what is appropriate has changed. (See this article from the New York Times on a 12- minute workout that helped veteran runners shave time off their 5Ks simply by a few 10-second spurts of going all out.)

Georgia attorney and magistrate judge Phill Bettis told me about a church mission to West Virginia where he met and talked with a retired coal miner. Phil and I were discussing emotional intelligence and empathy, and how they relate to listening. This was a vivid memory for Phil because he wasn’t sure at first how to find common ground with someone whose life experience had been so very different from his. Phil’s experience might be viewed as one type of “red-zone listening.”

So is listening to someone in grief, or a life crisis. An attorney recently wrote on the Texas Bar Blog about his experience with depression, and how other attorneys may serve as a “patient friend.” No one seeks a conversation like this out in order to hone their own skills, of course. (Actually some people run from them, although those will admit doing so are rare in their honesty.)

Being in such a conversation creates a moment to leave the green zone (the comfort zone) behind. Really listening at such a moment—which regardless of your legal training and expertise may actually be the only way to help—makes all the other efforts pay off, and far beyond what can be quantified in zones a scoreboard.

Here is a related post imagining “Tabata” training for listening.

Photo credit: Courtesy E’Lisa Campbell/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Client developmentCollaborationEmotional intelligenceGenderLeadership

Why it’s so hard to be understood

Among Listen Like a Lawyer’s summer reading is Heidi Grant Halvorson’s No One Understands You and What To Do About It (Harvard Business Review Press 2015). Halvorson is a professor at Columbia Business School; here she is interviewed by CBS News about the book.

51nTzV8T70L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_The book’s focus is on understanding how others perceive you, so that you may better manage how you are perceived. It’s not focused on the legal industry, but it discusses psychological dynamics that certainly apply in law offices as well as any organization. For lawyers, law students, and legal professionals, I would say this book is most useful for the following goals:

  • exploring the dynamics of interviewing process
  • delving beyond the surface in what is happening at work, particularly in work teams and with organizational clients
  • improving how one is perceived by a supervisor or work team
  • lightly exploring broader “psychology of leadership” concepts in the business world

Across situations, cognitive biases on all sides create distortions and disconnects in how someone thinks they are perceived and a perceiver’s actual impression. For the person communicating a message, the “transparency illusion” creates the overly optimistic expectation that others do in fact understand our intention. This illusion comes about in part from overconfidence about how clearly we communicate:

Your emotions are less obvious than you realize, and your face is less expressive too. Studies show that while very strong, basic emotionssurprise, fear, disgust, and angerare fairly easy to read, the more subtle emotions we experience on a daily basis are not.

On the receiving end, the well-known confirmation bias leads people to interpret information as confirming what they already think. These types of biases are semi-automatic and hard to combat, although more effortful, careful thinking in the “correction phase” can correct for distortions. (This is what Daniel Kahneman calls System 2.)

After laying this groundwork, Halvorson spends most of the book talking about the “lenses” that affect first impressions, before any intentional “corrections” can take place. The three key lenses are:

  • the trust lens

Trust is based on two factors—warmth and competencethat may sometimes be at odds with each other. More on that in a moment.

  • the power lens

To get the attention of a powerful person, it’s all about showing your “instrumentality.” As Halvorson writes, “It’s not about being niceit’s about being useful.”

  • the ego lens

The ego plays games with perception so that the perceiver comes out on top. Understanding ego dynamics can help a person avoid being seen as an ego threat. The least manipulative-sounding of these is focusing on how the speaker and perceiver are members of the same group (such as alums of the same school or members of the same profession).

These lenses are at work in difficult situations that lawyers and legal professionals face every day. A few that come to mind: clients who resist signing settlements that are strongly in their favor; supervising lawyers who want to control conversations with clients; legal professionals who gain a reputation—either for good or poor work—that seems difficult if not impossible to alter.

All of these lenses could help with the goal of listening, in that knowing about them can help a listener understand better what the other person is saying and why. Developing trust by cultivating warmth was where listening came into play explicitly. Some warmth tactics seem obvious: make eye contact, smile, and focus. But Halvorson cites studies that “people generally have no idea when they are not doing these things.” One practical theme of the book is just to ask friends and family about how you come across: do you make eye contact? How do they perceive you?

A potential difficulty for lawyers is the conflict—or at least perceived conflict—between what it takes to show warmth versus competence:

When people are trying to appear warm, they are agreeable, engage in flattery, make kind gestures, and encourage others to talk (i.e. they are good listeners). But when they want to appear competent, they do the opposite–speaking rather than listening, focusing the conversation on their own accomplishments and abilities, and challenging the opinions of others as a demonstration of their own expertise. In fact, both consciously and unconsciously, people tend to use this knowledge and play down their competence (i.e., play dumb) to appear warm, and vice versa.

 

Halvorson notes this conflict is a particular conundrum for “nontraditional women” who may experience particularly virulent sexism for perceived failure to adhere to stereotypes about women. This is an example where she nods to the deep and troubling excesses of cognitive biases, but this book is not the place to look for introspection or sensitive exploration of stereotypes and what to do about them.

Rather, it’s a pragmatic toolkit for the person who wants others to “get” them. For trying to resolve the warmth/competence conflict, Halvorson suggests the “moral” aspects of warmth do not conflict with competence. These aspects include being “courageous, fair, principled, responsible, honest, and loyal.” She notes that in a brief interview, it is a lot easier to show your sense of humor than that you are principled. But overall, perceived—and actual—trust is built by “being someone the perceiver can always count on to do the right thing.”

Halvorson also has chapters for difficult interactions such as those with “vigilant risk-mitigators” and “aloof, avoidant perceivers.” She closes with a relatively short treatment  seeing others more clearly (e.g., “take more time” and “consider evidence for and against” a hypothesis) and even seeing yourself more clearly. A common thread throughout the book is to ask friends, family and (if you dare) colleagues how you come across. If people consistently perceive you in ways you don’t intend, then reading, re-reading, and working on the ideas in this book may be in order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Client developmentEmotional intelligenceLaw practiceLegal communicationLegal writing

New proof about “sounding smart”

Every time a lawyer communications, that lawyer must choose not only what to say but how to say it—in person, phone, e-mail, or something else.

Speaking and listening obviously take longer and may seem inefficient. Writing (such as e-mail) can reach a group of people instantly and allow them to access the information at a convenient time, also creating a record all parties can use and refer to later.

Courtesy Flickr/Horia Varlan/CC by 2.0

Courtesy Flickr/Horia Varlan/CC by 2.0

But e-mail just isn’t as accurate at conveying meaning.* Anyone who has had an e-mail misunderstanding has experienced what the academic research shows:

Because of the paralinguistic cues in voice, such as intonation, cadence, and amplitude, observers who hear communicators guess their actual thoughts and feelings more accurately than observers who read the exact same words in text.

This is just the background in a new study conducted by Professor Juliana Schroeder and Nicholas Epley at the Booth School of Business (University of Chicago) (sub req’d for link). There’s actually another surprising disadvantage of writing, compared with speaking the same material to a listener.

In that study, MBA students prepared pitches on why they should be hired, and then delivered them either orally or in writing. The results were pronounced:

[E]valuators rated a candidate as more competent, thoughtful, and intelligent when they heard a pitch rather than read it and, as a result, had a more favorable impression of the candidate and were more interested in hiring the candidate.

Why is this? It has to do with cues provided by the voice, and heard by the listener—cues that are lacking in writing. The study summed up the effect:

The words that come out of a person’s mouth convey the presence of a thoughtful mind more clearly than the words typed by a person’s hands—even when those words are identical. Across five experiments, evaluators who listened to job pitches were consistently more interested in hiring the candidates than were evaluators who read identical pitches. A person’s voice communicates not only the content of his or her thinking, but also the humanlike capacity for thinking.

The effect persisted whether the written material was prepared for purposes of reading or speaking. It persisted in one form or another for “evaluators” drawn from a general audience at a Chicago museum as well as from recruiters at Fortune 500 companies. The study also asked trained actors to deliver the pitches in another sub-set of the study to glean whether professional voice skills were the deciding factor. They weren’t.

In an article on the study—”The Mouth Is Mightier than the Pen”—the New York Times pointed out that study authors did not control for the quality of the writing itself. Study author Dr. Epley told the Times he assumed the MBA students were “better-than-average” writers, given that they were enrolled at a top business school. But the study’s findings turned out to be greatly surprising to the students themselves: responses to a survey question showed they did not expect their spoken pitches to be so much more powerful in conveying intellect.

The study does not indicate it would be “impossible for a talented writer to overcome the limitations of text alone.” Rather, the study participants did not predict or expect that voice would provide such an advantage, and thus in their written pitches did not spontaneously try to overcome any deficit from that communication medium.

The study has a number of implications, for lawyers and anyone who conducts business in a variety of media—or anyone who cares about making an impression about their intellect:

[T]ext-based communications may make individuals sound less intelligent and employable than when the same information is communicated orally. The findings imply that old-fashioned phone conversations or in-person visits may be more effective when trying to impress a prospective employer or, perhaps, close a deal.

* Among e-mail’s other well-documented disadvantages such as creating a sort of tyranny of distraction.

Client developmentClinical legal educationEmotional intelligenceFact investigationLaw firm management

Two hemispheres of law practice

 Securities law and divorce law. Lawyers in these practice areas may not be from different planets, but they live in different “hemispheres,” according to sociological work being explored by Deborah Merritt at the Law School Café. Her first post is here and second post here.

Flickr/CC by SA-2.0

Flickr/CC by SA-2.0

Merritt is revisiting the study Chicago Lawyers by sociologists John Heinz and Edwards Laumann. This study generated the “hemispheres” metaphor for categorizing the work done by lawyers:

Heinz and Laumann concluded that a “fundamental distinction” divided lawyers into “two hemispheres.” One group of lawyers “represent[ed] large organizations (corporations, labor unions, or government),” while the other “work[ed] for individuals and small businesses.” The division between these two was so sharp that “[m]ost lawyers reside exclusively in one hemisphere or the other and seldom, if ever, cross the equator.”

The concept of these two hemispheres immediately brought to mind potential differences in listening. Here are some exploratory thoughts. More are certainly welcome in the comments.

First-hemisphere listening

Listening in the “first hemisphere” means listening to large organizations. A single organization may or may not have a single “voice,” notwithstanding established lines of communication between the lawyer and client. A lawyer who represents an organization must know how to listen efficiently but broadly to the different perspectives of that organization. For example, what if the client contact urges an aggressive approach in a particular matter, but the key witnesses are unwilling or ineffective?

First-hemisphere listening may also involve heavy use of e-mail to enable simultaneous communication among a group. This could mean losing the nonverbal nuance of spoken conversation, as many critics of e-mail have pointed out. It’s a truism of e-mail skills that the best communicators know when to pick up the phone.

Listening to an organization also means sensing whether the key players remain satisfied with the work. As I recently heard a law firm’s chief marketing officer say, “When a [big] client isn’t happy with your work, they don’t tell you, because they don’t like confrontation. They just stop giving you any more work.” She made a great case for how a marketing officer in a big firm can help with listening to clients and teasing out more of what they really think.

Second-hemisphere listening

Listening it the “second hemisphere” would involve a different set of challenges. This second hemisphere brings to mind the more traditional image of listening such as one-on-one meetings where the lawyer listens actively and builds rapport. Perhaps the lawyer must guide the conversation to legally relevant facts, while respecting the client’s need to be heard. Many (almost all?) lawyers in this hemisphere also need strong skills in cross-cultural lawyering to be able to effectively listen to and problem-solve with their clients.

The business of law works plays a role here as well: lawyers must work on efficient yet welcoming intake procedures and appropriate listening behaviors from any staff who interact with individual clients. (See Lee Rosen’s tale of woe on Divorce Discourse, in which he interacts with a law firm in an attempt to refer some business.)

Why do these hemispheres exist?

So in terms of listening, are the two hemispheres more different or more alike? To think about that, we should think about why these different hemispheres exist in the first place. Merritt considers several factors such as income and power. Ultimately, she suggests—drawing from Heinz and Laumann’s work as well as Andrew Abbott from the University of Chicago—that the real issue is “professional purity”:

By professional purity, [Abbott] means the ability to resolve problems primarily through application of the profession’s own principles. The most prestigious professionals apply their knowledge to particular problems, but they do not grapple directly with messy facts or human emotions. Lower status professionals, in contrast, resolve problems that reflect a full range of “human complexity and difficulty.” (Andrew Abbott, Status and Status Strain in the Professions, 86 Am. J. Sociology 819, 823 (1981).

This idea helps to delve into the listening question. For the first hemisphere, perhaps listening takes a background role to the foreground role of legal analysis and problem-solving driven by that analysis. As Merritt writes, the lawyer’s role here is doing “some of the most ‘legally’ powerful work in the profession” such as examining “statutes, rules, and precedents to construct new, advantageous ways for the client to conduct its business.”

The privileged role of the lawyer here, doing this “legally” powerful work, perhaps can generate leeway for how and when the lawyer communicates. In the classic law-school legal-memorandum assignment, the legal analysis may lead to additional facts to investigate. Not knowing all the facts to investigate up front does not bring blame on the lawyer because unique legal analysis drives what needs to be known. Individual contacts in an organization may or may not be impressed with a particular lawyer’s communication skills, but one person’s experience may not be the most important criteria for selecting counsel.

Moreover in the first hemisphere, the organizational client’s workplace culture itself may discourage the expression of “messy facts and human emotions.” A non-emotional workplace culture could thus reduce the expression of these emotions in interactions with lawyers. (Merritt implies and I would argue that an emotion-suppressing workplace culture does not in fact mean the effective first-hemisphere lawyer need not worry about those emotions. More on this in a moment.)

For the second hemisphere, perhaps there is more obvious, explicit pressure on listening. It is certainly what is needed to deal with the “full range of ‘human complexity and difficulty.’” For individual problems that can’t really be solved with a neat legal solution, listening can go a long way toward helping and healing. An individual client may not know social-security law, but that client can recognize whether the lawyer is doing a decent job of listening. And the individual client may be less constrained on finding new counsel if the client feels dissatisfied. (However, lack of experience with lawyers and lack of a consumer mentality may cut the other way.)

Ultimately, Deborah Merritt suggests that the differences between the first and second hemisphere are less than we might think:

“Both hemispheres involve mundane, repetitive tasks, as well as intellectually challenging work. Similarly, effective education of ‘second hemisphere’ lawyers is just as intellectually demanding as that for ‘first hemisphere’ ones.”

First-hemisphere lawyers who refuse to delve into “messy facts” ultimately do risk their relationship with organizational clients. Merritt cites the facts that corporations complain when their law firms do not take the time to really understand their business.

What does this mean for law schools?

Merritt makes a number of points about teaching and scholarship. The “most important changes we can make in law schools, for all clients and lawyers” is to reduce the focus on appellate decisions. Instead, she argues law schools should bring client interaction into the entire law-school curriculum, including the sacrosanct first year.

In this way, students would be better prepared for their work as lawyers, in either hemisphere. Perhaps ultimately this type of reform would begin to erode distinctions between hemispheres as well, although they are very deeply rooted, as the sociologists work has repeatedly showed.

Client developmentClinical legal educationCollaborationEmotional intelligenceEthics

Teaching Success > Analyzing Failure

Why blog about listening? It drew me in because it’s different than legal writing—which I honestly love, and love to teach, but sometimes tire of, with its skirmishes in broader linguistic debates about two spaces after a period, commas outside quotation marks, and the indefinite singular pronoun, as well as the temptation to go negative.

Courtesy Flickr/Martin Fisch/CC BY-SA 2.0

Courtesy Flickr/Martin Fisch/CC BY-SA 2.0

Listening is among the softest of the soft skills, so soft it’s hard to perceive and even harder to measure. It’s not talked about as much as writing or speaking—or even the other “receptive” communication channel, reading—but I believe it has a huge impact on every aspect of law students’ and lawyers’ effectiveness, both real and perceived. If a law student gets every relevant fact from an externship client including important gaps in the client’s knowledge and then produces excellent notes for the supervising attorney, but the client does not feel heard, is that a successful interaction? How can law students and lawyers enhance their listening skills?

I hoped to mainly focus the blog on constructive ideas, as opposed to the “what not to do” method so prevalent in some conversations about legal writing. Yet soon as I launched the blog, the most common reaction was to parade out the listening failures:

“Your blog is called Listen Like a Lawyer? Oh, so you mean poorly and with preconceived ideas?”

Thus the temptation. It can be fun to write about bad examples of anything, whether listening or writing or any other skill. I had a little too much fun writing a Halloween post about “scary” listening here. And here’s a more serious post focusing on terrible listening. The attraction—and impact—of talking about failure is based on a larger disturbing reality:

[N]egative information, experiences, and people have far deeper impacts than positive ones.

This is from an article in the Harvard Business Review explaining Roy Baumeister’s paper “Bad Is Stronger than Good.”

Prevention is better than failure

The temptation to talk about any skill in terms of failure came immediately to mind when I read Ken Grady’s latest post at the Seyfarth Shaw Lean Consulting blog SeytLines, “On Teaching Lawyers to Succeed Rather than Fail.” His post focuses on critiquing the case method of law school, in which almost every fact pattern by definition represents a failure of the parties and lawyers to find a mutually beneficial solution and settle the case.

His critique is not unreasonable: why is that a good way to teach lawyers to solve problems? Actually Grady is less interested even in solving problems than in anticipating and preventing them. And he doesn’t think the case method is very good at this at all:

“[T]aken to an extreme and when used as the primary method of teaching students, [the case method] becomes a vicious circle keeping us trapped in a cycle of failure.”

Re-thinking the model to teach law students how to proactively work with clients to prevent legal problems turns out to be very difficult. Prevention is a lot harder to see than failure:

“Much of the best lawyering ever done was not recorded in case books or articles. It went unrecorded because that work prevented failure from happening. The lawyers who provided those services kept their clients out of trouble, kept costs down, and avoided burdens on society.”

Role-playing real situations is one way to get at preventative lawyering, as in the following example from Grady:

“A general counsel is faced with a new business model. She investigates the obvious legal risks of the model and does not find anything at odds with existing law. As far as she can tell the proposed business model is perfectly legal. But still, something does not seem right to her. She pushes further into the model. As she studies it, she realizes how it may conflict with evolving concepts in the law and societal trends. Today the model is perfectly legal, but in three to five years, it most likely will be problematic. Our general counsel could do nothing and leave any problem to the future. She could follow the maxim of make money today and let tomorrow bring whatever it may. Or, she could look for something to mitigate the risk.”

Problem-solving and leadership

Grady’s post “On Teaching Lawyers to Succeed Rather than Fail” reminds me a lot of Emory Law Professor Dorothy Brown’s recent article Law School Without Borders (PDF). In the article, she outlines an alternative approach to teaching law. She gives a case study problem solving and problem prevention for a hypothetical client who happens to be a “nationally known Southern-style celebrity chef” sued for race and sex discrimination. In the article, Brown walks through the possibilities for achieving success through proactive, interdisciplinary, collaborative lawyering. More broadly, she suggests what law schools can and should do to broaden their focus:

“A law school that incorporates more than just teaching students how to think like lawyers, but how to also solve problems and take a leadership role will graduate students better equipped to add value to their firms and clients on the first day. Emotional intelligence should not be underestimated. By emotional intelligence, I mean empathy, exercising good judgment, maturity, wisdom, common sense, and last, but not least, the ability to have difficult conversations successfully.”

Hear, Hear! to the idea of teaching leadership, emotional intelligence, and difficult conversations. The “law school without borders” Professor Brown describes is consistent with Ken Grady’s interest in teaching problem prevention through anticipatory lawyering. Their ideas both fit within and challenge the ongoing conversation about experiential learning in legal education, such as here.

Better listening by analyzing listening successes

This is a huge topic, but what we can do here is to bring the focus back to listening. From time to time, we can turn away from “10 Ways to Be Awful at Listening.” We can instead talk about “10 Ways Great Listening Helped Lawyers Serve Their Clients By Understanding and Avoiding Potential Disputes.” Here are some questions:

  • How have you seen lawyers use listening to successfully prevent and solve problems?
  • What did they do, specifically, that showed their listening?
  • How can proactive, preventative, powerful listening be a tool for lawyering success?
  • What are some ways to teach that kind of listening?
Client developmentEmotional intelligenceLaw firm marketingLegal communicationPeople skills

Listening and legal marketing

This blog is a place where not only lawyers but all legal professionals can come together around the topic of listening. Listening helps to bind us together in productive work—or hold us apart, when we listen poorly. Legal marketing professionals have a huge contribution to make here, as they really know deep in their bones the importance of listening to the client (and the potential client) in a variety of ways. I didn’t attend last week’s annual conference of the Legal Marketing Association, but the meeting produced an excessive and interesting number of live tweets, so I decided to point out some themes of interest here on the blog.

The keynote was by Daniel Pink, and he kicked it off by invoking Alec Baldwin’s ABC moment—”Always Be Closing”—from Glengarry Glen Ross to set the stage. (I thought about linking that clip here but it is quite NSFW.)

Dan Pink suggests a new set of ABC’s for a world where the seller no longer has superior information to the buyer. Instead, the key principles to successful sales, or marketing, or whatever term makes you comfortable when it comes to finding potential clients and convincing them to use your services—which this blog fundamentally assumes to be activities of interest to most lawyers and legal professionals—are attunement, buoyancy, and clarity. If attendees got one thing from Pink’s keynote, it would be these three principles:

Each of these principles has something to do with listening, I think, with attunement at the top of the list.

A. Attunement and listening mutually reinforce each other

Attunement means being able to understand the client’s point of view. Being open to the other person’s perspective is crucial:

But it’s not the same thing as emotional intelligence:

To stress the point, what the other side is thinking is at least as crucial and probably more so than what they are feeling:

Tweets from other sessions, not the keynote, touched on attunement in different ways such as handling the pitch meeting and maintaining the relationship:

Attunement remains crucial throughout the relationship, when things are going well . . .

. . . and especially when the relationship may be going south:

One tweet pointed out the importance of attunement for legal marketers in their role as facilitators of business delivered by others:

This was an intriguing point with several interpretations. Maybe it’s necessary to understand “the service” and the providers of that service, and the strengths and weaknesses of both. As a witness in one of my first IP cases said, “My job is to make sure the sales team only sells what the engineering team can actually deliver.” Or maybe it’s necessary in the sense of how the legal marketer adds value to a law firm: legal marketers who are superior at attunement to client needs add irreplaceable value to the law firm’s team of professionals.

And this point about attunement in a three-point relationship (legal client/legal marketer/lawyer) may be expanded to the cover lawyers. Being attuned to the knowledge and expertise of the legal marketers who specialize in understanding clients and potential clients can help lawyers better understand their clients as well.

B. Buoyancy means dealing with rejection

The value of buoyancy apparently came wrapped in some generalities about lawyers’ perhaps non-buoyant personalities:

But relationships can help:

The tweets don’t say this, but isn’t it clear that listening is a great tool for anybody to build relationships with mentors and sponsors?

I’ll have to read Pink’s book To Sell Is Human to get a fuller picture of what he says on buoyancy. He also wrote the book (literally) on motivation, which leads me to expect words of wisdom on self-talk, or internal dialogue. What do lawyers and legal professionals hear when they listen to their own self-talk? To be buoyant, we need healthy ways of handling self-talk. And if our self-talk is overwhelmingly negative, we probably can’t listen effectively to others for problem-solving and relationship-building.

C. Clarity is about finding problems and curating information to help solve them

The clarity principle seems to focus on finding problems and sharing information in productive ways. Pink spoke about helping clients find problems:

The part about not being a problem solver is interesting. “Solving” problems too quickly can itself cause problems, such as not fully understanding the actual problem and not forging the relationship necessary to address it. And jumping in to answer a question, rather than fully hearing someone out, is a hallmark of bad listening.

So finding problems is part of clarity, and the most advanced way to do this is to find the problems that are hard to perceive:

The theme of information saturation plays a continuing role throughout these new ABC’s. For example, clarity is a huge part of content strategy, basically selecting and sharing what clients and potential clients really need to know:

And that brings us full circle to the role of the legal marketing professional. Revealing more about who the clients are and what they need helps everyone:

“Personas” and “key client types” may be a bit jargon-y, but lawyers and legal marketing professionals can work together to understand each other’s language and the ideas behind that language. Listening to one another in this way helps with the broader common goal of listening to the client. Listening helps with all of the new ABC’s of selling, which in turn lead to getting business, forming relationships, and ultimately serving clients in effective ways.

Pink’s keynote at LMA drew extensive on his book To Sell Is Human. For those interested in seeing him present the ideas, here’s a webinar hosted at the Harvard Business Review. And Nancy Myrland has collected all of the blog posts from the LMA15 meeting here.

Client developmentEmotional intelligenceLegal communicationPeople skills

Listening is part of emotional intelligence

Daniel Goleman is the father of the emotional-intelligence movement. He recently shared a checklist of “EQ” competencies with the New York Times. EQ has four overarching categories:

1. self-awareness

2. self-management

3. empathy

4. relationship skills

Not surprisingly, listening was included as a skill related to empathy:
You pay full attention to the other person and take time to understand what they are saying, without talking over them or hijacking the agenda.
In the context of ever-present smartphones, this is much harder than it used to be. The presence of a phone decreases the actual empathy the person feels, according to several psychology experiments: “[B]ecause of the many social, instrumental, and entertainment options phones afford us, they often divert our attention from our current environment, whether we are speeding down a highway or sitting through a meeting,” reported the Scientific American. “[C]ell phones may serve as a reminder of the wider network to which we could connect, inhibiting our ability to connect with the people right next to us.”
There are a lot of directions I would like to take this post—for example reflections by practicing lawyers on what EI means to them in their work. Also the pragmatic benefits of emotional intelligence such as better negotiation.  But thinking about the instrumental benefits of emotional intelligence leads me to think of Machiavellianism and the “dark side of emotional intelligence.” Without getting too side-tracked into those areas at least at this time, I’ll stop. Listening is part of empathy, and empathy is part of emotional intelligence.
Note this post has been corrected to reflect “EQ” as the commonly used acronym for Emotional Intelligence, rather than “EI.”
Client developmentLaw firm marketingLegal communicationPeople skills

A tale of two sales

A 40-something lawyer attempting a triathlon is apparently so common as to be a cliché, but I’d rather be a healthy, fit cliché than wither away uniquely.

Courtesy Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

Courtesy Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

Two recent experiences shopping for triathlon gear prompted this post about listening and sales. Listening is a crucial part of one-on-one marketing, and a few aspects of my experience may help lawyers as well.

Store #1

I happened to visit this store while picking up a race number for a small running event. It’s a place I’ve always driven by and been interested to visit, but never actually gone into until now. While I was picking up the number, the store owner stood by. He took the first step by asking if I wanted to look at some shoes. I actually am very interested in the new super-cushioned shoes I’ve been reading about, which this store does carry. But I didn’t say that just yet. I gave a noncommital but friendly “maybe, when my current shoes wear out.” I then told him the model of my current shoes.

The response was immediate and vociferous, “Oh, we’ve got to get you out of those.” He then critiqued their design and suggested they are actually weakening my feet. He asked me if I saw a television news report with an orthopedist’s endorsement of a certain brand featured in this store.

The store owner didn’t find out that my existing brand of shoes has helped me recover my running career. He didn’t find out that I have a long history of orthopedic issues. He didn’t find out what I like in a pair or shoes, or that I was actually highly interested in a different brand of shoes that he actually does carry in the store. It appeared he had a featured brand he was selling to every runner that came in the store. I got the strong impression his initial conversation with almost any potential customer would lead to the same solution no matter what the potential customer said.

Store #2

This was a bicycle store, so potentially a much more expensive purchase. A salesperson approached me as I browsed and asked how he could help. He said he had only been working there for a few weeks and brought in a more senior sales person. She asked a series of questions. First and foremost: “What is your goal?”

After I told her, she asked some follow-up questions about my commitment to triathlons. She said she would recommend a very different bike for someone attempting a triathlon once as a bucket-list item as compared to someone who was going to ride more frequently and compete throughout the summer and beyond. It was understood I wouldn’t be walking out right then and there with a bike, but she offered to e-mail me some “eye candy” and specs on the bike she suggested. Her follow-up e-mail began with “It was a blast talking with you about bikes today” and continued with detailed information about the bike.

Lessons for lawyers

What do sales tactics in specialty sports stores have to do with marketing legal services? I saw a few potentially relevant points:

Marketing to someone you just met

I had never seen the shoe guy or the bike lady before in my life. To be fair to the shoe guy, I went into the store for a different reason (to pick up a race number), whereas the bike lady knew there’s no reason for me to be in that store other than interest in bicycles.

Either way, establishing rapport seems like a fundamental sales tactic. Others have suggested an 80-20 rule: get the other person talking 80 percent of the time. In his excellent and fun book Ditch the Pitch, marketing expert Steve Yastrow recommends a higher burden: keep the conversation on the customer 95 percent of the time.

The shoe guy didn’t ask me a question other than “while you’re here, do you want to look at some new shoes?” Once he got a quasi-positive answer, he was off and running with his pitch about the benefits of the shoes and the recommendation of an orthopedic specialist in a news report.

In that sense, he fell into a trap lawyers may face as well: the desire to show what you know. It does seem intuitive that one can sell by impressing them with your subject matter expertise. This seems especially true for discerning buyers with competitive goals and a willingness to innnovate for better results. And it is especially true when you have developed an expertise in a new and exciting approach or idea or product. But he gave the impression of being wound up like a child’s toy to release his spiel.

The bike lady asked a series of questions and didn’t talk about bikes at all until she learned more about me and my goals. After building a rapport with these questions—the equivalent of intake questions for lawyers?—she moved toward a solution that addressed the questions. At that point she selected and described a solution, i.e., a particular recommended bike. She pointed to its features and compared and contrasted it with other solutions, i.e., other bikes higher and lower in the spectrum of features and price.

Marketing to someone who has already made purchases in that same market

The shoe guy heard what brand and model of shoe I wear and immediately said, “We’ve got to get you out of those.” The message and the phrasing set a bad tone in a couple of ways.

First of all, there was no “we” at that point, since I had been in the store all of five minutes. Second, I am actually really quite happy with my shoes. It almost made me feel bad about the shoes I’m wearing. Instead I resolved the dissonance by shifting into a feeling of dislike toward the sales person.

Despite the good experiences with my existing shoes, I actually would experiment with another pair of shoes that are similar to these because I have read about great results other runners have gotten from the new super-cushioned shoes. But I’m just not going to go in a totally different direction, given the good experience I’ve had to this point. And that guy would never know this because of how he approached the entire conversation.

So, if a lawyer is talking to a potential client who has a history with a different lawyer or firm, it would seem rather arrogant to lead with “We’ve got to get you away from that [lawyer or firm]!”

Rather, the lawyer could find out more about what the potential client needs in terms of business services. What does the potential client want from a lawyer? There’s no need to trash the status quo if you can—subtly—offer an improvement on it.

Marketing what you believe to be the superior product or service in the field

The bike lady selected a model to show me and talked about its great features including how light it is, its hidden cables, its smooth gears. She pointed out how the pedals can be customized to preferred feel and functionality. She offered to let me ride it in the neighborhood. She then talked about models one step down and one step up from that model. And she mentioned that adjustments to the bike are free in the store for the life of the bike—potentially 10 years or more.

In this way a lawyer can present a client or potential client with options: the one that seems the most effective to the lawyer, even if it’s not the cheapest approach, as well as the higher-end and lower-end ways to deal with the issue, including their advantages and disadvantages.

Creating a longer-term relationship with the customer/client

Some kinds of businesses are better able to form a relationship than others. A bike needs adjustments and can benefit from various add-ons any time during its useful life. The bike lady made sure to mention the free adjustments for life that come along with any bike purchase.

Still, even a one-off sale can form a relationship. For running shoes, the chance to try on the shoes in the store could be a powerful incentive to buy because now you’ve spent the sales person’s valuable time working with you. Or the store could provide ongoing support with smaller items like running gloves, water bottles, special compression socks, and so on.

It may be disturbing to discuss similarities between marketing legal services and selling special socks. But if those socks are a reasonably inexpensive way to prevent years of injury and expensive physical therapy, then they are pretty awesome. And similarly with legal services, an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, creating a grateful client. Walking out of the running store with a $40 pair of compression socks and a positive experience would have made me more likely to stay interested in buying shoes and other gear there over the long term.

Standing by the product/service while also providing flexibility

The bike lady acknowledged that the bikes she is selling are a fairly major purchase. But, she said, if you buy it and get it home and within 30 days decide you just don’t like cycling and aren’t going to use it, bring it back. We’ll give you a refund. Or, she said, if you get it home and within 30 days decide you actually love cycling and want to get an even better bike, we’ll let you trade up into something nicer.

Legal services may offer similar flexibility given the many decision points along the way in handling a legal matter. For example, a client may be able to work with counsel to test out a particular strategy and then adjust upward or downward. By explaining some of the time frames and decision points for adopting a different strategy, the lawyer can help the client understand she is not locking herself in to one decision forever.

Conclusion

Listening seems to be a key part of all of the above. The person who took time to listen to my goals and to tease out some of my experiences with biking made a far better impression than the person who reacted to my status quo by criticizing it and trying to force his favorite off-the-shelf solution.

Of course lawyering is different than selling shoes and bikes. But the universal principles of persuasion are at work for all kinds of customers and clients in all kinds of selling environments.