Category: Client relationships

Client relationshipsDispute resolution

How do clients choose what to do?

Getting into the minds of litigants is no easy task. Few lawyers or lawyers-to-be receive any systematic instruction regarding the psychology of clients. Indeed, although lawyers interact with litigants extensively—often about sensitive matters with serious implications— lawyers frequently have little knowledge about what motivates litigants’ decisions about their cases, in part because there is a dearth of empirical research on litigants’ thought processes. Although polls and survey studies attempt to discover how lawyers think, civil litigants are seldom the direct subjects of similar inquiries (citations omitted).

This is from an interesting new paper, Inside the Mind of the Client: An Analysis of Litigants’ Decision Criteria for Choosing Procedures by Donna Shestowsky of UC Davis To help fill this gap, she conducted a longitudinal study about litigants themselves and how they chose procedures in their cases. How did litigants decide whether to mediate, arbitrate, or go to trial? Shestowsky surveyed litigants in California, Oregon, and Utah, all of which have some sort of ADR offered as part of the civil litigation process.

Unsurprisingly, she found that cost is a stable factor before and after, but her study goes much deeper. Here is the article abstract (unfortunately the whole article is behind a Wiley paywall):

This article presents findings from the first longitudinal study to ask civil litigants prospectively what criteria they plan to consider when selecting legal procedures and then retroactively assess the criteria used to make those decisions. The most commonly referenced ex ante criteria are lawyer’s advice, cost, and time. The retrospective reasons also include these factors, but the list is narrower and more practical. Litigants who initially listed a desire to reduce costs or follow their lawyers’ advice were later significantly more likely to report using procedures for these reasons, suggesting the stability of these criteria. However, the same stability did not manifest for other criteria. Implications for improving protocols for counseling litigants about procedure are discussed

She found that litigants considered a wide variety of factors before deciding on procedure, but afterwards in explaining their choices, they were much more prone to rely on practical considerations and highly constrained choices. This finding reinforces earlier findings that “litigants sometimes expect more from the legal system than it can ultimately deliver.” (Here she is referring to Tamara Relis, It’s Not About the Money!: A Theory on Misconceptions of Plaintiffs’ Litigation Aims, 68 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 701 (2007).)

One major factor throughout the process for represented litigants was attorney influence. Shestowsky’s deeper dive into litigants’ own preferences and choices led her to reinforce the value of open-ended conversations with clients:

Given the extent to which litigants are predisposed to following their lawyers’ advice about which procedures to use, lawyers should attempt to understand their clients’ interests, values, and objectives before sharing their personal evaluations of procedures to avoid imposing their own views. When values differ, lawyers should not interfere with the client’s prerogative to work within her own values framework.

Hat tip to John Lande at the Indisputably blog on dispute resolution for sharing this interesting article. As John pointed out, lawyers don’t always know what their clients are thinking, and this study helps to address the disparity:

Donna’s research is particularly important because we know that litigants often have systematically different perspectives than their lawyers.  It’s much harder to study litigants than lawyers and it is easy to assume, incorrectly, that lawyers’ responses in studies accurately reflect their clients’ perspectives.

Client relationshipsCollaborationLegal communicationLitigationPeople skills

Repeat listening

This Thursday, I will be pleased to moderate a panel on productive communication between insurance adjusters and insurance defense counsel. Attorney Jeremy Richter of Webster Henry and claims adjuster Nikki DeWitt of Carolina Casualty Insurance Company will be the panelists at the event sponsored by the CLM’s Alabama chapter.

Our discussion will focus on how attorneys and claims adjusters can use listening and other communication skills to work together efficiently and effectively. Many of these assignments involve repeat players on both the adjuster and attorney side. What I’m most interested in hearing from Nikki and Jeremy is steps they recommend for establishing solid communication early, and maintaining effective communication in later cases. Effective listening is a major part of both goals, and Jeremy and Nikki will share their observations and some examples of how they use listening skills. This conversation will be customized to the claims adjuster-attorney relationship, but I expect some broadly applicable points as well.

Registration is open to CLM members and fellows here. I will follow up here on the blog after the panel.

 

Client relationshipsClinical legal educationCollaborationEmotional intelligenceInterviews

Review of Alan Alda’s If I Understood You

ralph_anneThanks to Anne Ralph, Clinical Professor of Law at the Ohio State University, Michael E. Moritz College of Law, for this guest post reviewing Alan Alda’s new book on listening, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? 

Any lawyer who’s misunderstood (or been misunderstood by) a client, opposing counsel, or judge knows that failed communication can thwart even the best legal knowledge and skills. In If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, Alan Alda makes the case for an intentional focus on effective communication by highlighting the very real costs of failed communication: “[D]isengagement from the person we hope will understand us” [xvi]. This disengagement can “stand in the way of all kinds of happiness and success” [xvi], including, I think Alda would agree, success in the practice of law.

In Alda’s book, lawyers will find useful insights related to listening. Granted, most of Alda’s case studies and anecdotes center on how scientists communicate their knowledge—which makes sense given that Alda hosted the TV series Scientific American Frontiers for eleven years and founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. But Alda’s friendly writing voice and skill at sharing complex concepts in simple, memorable terms make the book valuable for anyone interested in improving their communication skills.

The book maps Alda’s own personal journey to improve his communication. Alda describes his communication “blunders” when he began hosting Scientific American Frontiers: He assumed he knew more than he actually did, which offended a scientist he was interviewing; he repeatedly ignored the scientist’s obvious body language showing discomfort; and finally, as he barreled along through an interview, he asked a set script of questions instead of questions that grew out of what the scientist was sharing. In short, Alda writes, “I wasn’t really listening to him” [6]. In this list of blunders, lawyers might recognize their own experiences with awkward client interviews, ineffective depositions, or unsuccessful negotiations with opposing counsel.

Alda, a prolific actor and director whose deep insights into human nature are apparent on every page, was disappointed with himself for being so disconnected in the interview. Alda’s acting experience, including his improv training, had taught him to connect to other actors in a deep and immediate sense, creating spontaneous responses between people. As a result, he had expected himself to be naturally better at listening and reacting to his interview partner.

Thus began his quest to better understand the science of communicating–or, as Alda puts it, borrowing a term from director Mike Nichols: “relating.” Relating, as Alda defines it, means “observing” another person with such awareness that “everything about them affect[s] you: not just their words, but also their tone of voice, their body language, even subtle things like where they’re standing in the room or how they occupy a chair” [10].

When Alda consciously used his improv training in his conversations with scientists, he found his way to “responsive listening,” the key first step in relating and a concept that roughly translates to being open to being changed by the other person in the conversation.

The willingness to be changed required him to use both his natural curiosity and an awareness of his own ignorance. It turned out that conversations were hampered when Alda made assumptions about the scientists’ work based on his own limited knowledge—those assumptions led him to ask limiting questions, which reduced the value of the information the scientists provided. But when Alda engaged in the kind of responsive listening that his improv work prepared him to do, the effect was contagious, leading the scientists to become more responsive as well. Alda described it as being “drawn into a kind of dance”[12]: Responsive listening made conversations dynamic because both participants in the conversation were constantly attuned to each other, instead of just waiting for each other to finish talking.

Naturally, Alda wondered if he had stumbled onto something big: would improv training help scientists better communicate complex concepts to the non-scientist world?

The answer is yes, as the rest of the book chronicles. Alda explores how people can develop their skill in relating, leading to better communication. As it turns out, both scientific studies of communication and his personal work with improv and acting bear out the idea that responsive listening is an essential building block in communicating anything to an audience.

For instance, Alda describes taking engineering students through of a series of improv exercises, which teach an ultimate lesson: “The person who’s communicating something is responsible for how well the other person follows him” [30]. In other words, true communication is inseparable from responsive listening and observing: “Communication doesn’t take place because you tell somebody something. It takes place when you observe them closely and track their ability to follow you” [17]. After these exercises, every engineering student’s delivery of a scientific talk improved. Again, Alda uses scientists and doctors in his stories, but the lessons can apply equally well to lawyers and clients or to lawyers and their other audiences.

For lawyers who want to better engage in responsive listening, this true connection that fosters communication, Alda identifies two key capacities:

  • empathy (which Alda describes as an emotional understanding of what the other person is feeling) and
  • Theory of Mind (which he describes as a rational understanding of what another person is thinking).

Both these capacities can be learned, and the book describes how teaching these skills to doctors leads to better outcomes for patients—and, interestingly, even to lower rates of medical malpractice lawsuits.

Because not everyone has access to the improv training or Theory-of-Mind courses the book describes, this blog’s readers might find Alda’s personal experiments at improving his empathy and theory of mind interesting and compelling. Alda participated in some small studies that aimed to increase empathy through practices he incorporated into his everyday life. For instance, he practiced reading the faces of people he encountered every day—from family members to passers-by on the street to cab drivers—trying to observe what they were feeling. He also practiced silently naming the emotions he observed. The results of these small studies suggest that these interventions have the intended effect of increasing empathy, and Alda invites readers to try these themselves. (In addition to describing how these exercises can improve one’s capacity for responsive listening, Alda also covers the role that increased empathy and awareness of Theory of Mind play in effective writing and in making a message memorable.)

I encourage lawyers to read the book—its friendly tone and use of stories makes the content memorable and accessible. Until you do read the book, consider the following as big takeaways for lawyers’ listening:

Listening is an essential part, a necessary precondition, of communicating well. Effective listening requires close attention to another person, thoughtful observation not only of words but of body language, withholding jumping to conclusions, and curiosity.

Thanks again to OSU’s Anne Ralph. She also writes about narrative as it is shaped (distorted?) by the rules of civil procedure. See more of Anne’s legal scholarship here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1669761

 

 

Client developmentClient relationshipsEmotional intelligenceInnovationLaw firm management

Unicorn lawyers

What is a “unicorn skill”? It’s a skill that reasonably performing professionals in the field do not have, which is why they are just…reasonable. They can still do their job but are not “A” players. A unicorn skill is thus rarely found, and those who have it stand out as…unicorns.

I learned about the term “unicorn skill” from this article (quoting John Maeda’s Design in Tech report) claiming that for software designers, the unicorn skill is not coding (as traditionally thought) but good writing. Coders who are also great writers are unicorns:

A core skill of the interaction designer is imagining users (characters), motivations, actions, reactions, obstacles, successes, and a complete set of ‘what if’ scenarios. … These are the skills of a writer — all kinds of writers, but particularly fiction, screenwriting, and technical writing.

(This segment of the article is quoted from blogger Susan Stuart.)

The unicorn idea connects to a larger meme within the design community about unicorn designers, who—according to http://www.uxunicorn.com —can be described as follows:

Mythical user experience designer with an advanced and adaptive skill range. Outstanding skills in graphic design, rapid prototyping, front end development, user testing, technical specifications, marketing and branding. It does not have an opinion, it has a process, and will harmonize with any environment.

Unicorn designers are basically “supernatural beings” that may or may not exist, but that hiring managers want. They combine the best of technical skills with the best of soft skills:

It’s important to be able to receive and give feedback and have the necessary soft skills to work efficiently with others. Fortunately, with the understanding and expertise of different skill sets, unicorns should be able to develop deep empathy for the people they are working with.

Obviously there is some skepticism here about whether such a designer exists, or could exist.

Unicorn lawyers?

If that’s a unicorn designer, then what’s a unicorn lawyer? It’s not that far off from the combination of advanced technical plus soft skills described above for designers and coders. Here’s a draft description, inspired by the above and tailored to the legal profession:

Mythical recent law grad with an advanced and adaptive legal skill set. Outstanding skills in client interviewing, case analysis, legal research and analysis, mediation, litigation, transaction, regulatory compliance, social justice, efficiency, people skills, client development, and pro bono. They do not have an opinion, they have a complete skill set, and will enhance the justice production and economic advantage of any firm or agency. They are also qualified to be a solo unicorn needing no further mentoring.

Skepticism about unicorns in design work reminded me of the skepticism within legal education: can a law school can really be expected to produce a practice-ready graduate immediately adaptable to literally any legal environment? Those who aspire to produce or to be unicorns embrace a perhaps radical faith in and dedication to their own professional development.

Assuming for the moment that producing / being a unicorn lawyer is a worthy quest, can we identify one single unicorn skill—a skill that is under-appreciated, not commonly found, and highly correlated with outstanding performance in the field?

After reading the claim that writing is the unicorn skill for designers, I posited on Twitter that legal writing might be the unicorn skill for lawyers:

That idea was instantaneously shot down, with multiple sources confirming that legal writing is necessary but not sufficient—at least not in law firms that need client business. Any skill that is expected as a baseline cannot be a unicorn skill. The skill identified as more unusual and more likely to be rewarded was rainmaking. And rainmaking can, of course, be defined in various degrees of formality:

Listening as the unicorn skill for lawyers?

Listening is not unrelated to client development and even “a**kissing.” So can we say effective listening might be a unicorn skill because it is not commonly practiced at the level of excellence and is highly correlated with overall excellence?

First, it’s important to acknowledge that in almost any lawyering that involves interpersonal interactions, listening should be practiced to at least an average level of competence. Lawyers have to listen to their clients to take the facts, and listen to their supervisors to take assignments, and listen to witnesses to take depositions and conduct witness examinations at trial.

But is listening commonly practiced at the level of excellence? That means picking up the wealth of verbal and nonverbal cues that intense listening can reveal. It means making people truly feel heard. It means hearing and processing what is not being said. It means recognizing the moment of opportunity to interrupt and show engagement, versus the moment to sit back in silence and let the speaker continue unabated. The judgment and skilled intuition needed for this type of listening is why it goes into good lawyering in a technical sense and good rainmaking in the social sense of being liked and trusted. Finding all these skills in one person (plus necessary but not sufficient skills like legal writing) makes for a great lawyer.

And—according to the hypothesis of listening as unicorn skill—you don’t see top lawyers who are not also really strong at listening. You might call it charisma, but listening is part of what these extra-effective professionals do so well, and that others don’t. They take in a lot of information efficiently in their conversations and remember it. When they repeat questions, it’s not because they missed something, but to see if the speaker answers differently or to refocus on a crucial area. They may follow up in writing with precision to pin down the recipients and preserve their “record” for later.

Even in settings not traditionally understood as emotionally charged, they help others feel heard, efficiently, because they subtly manage the conversation. That’s part of what makes for great rainmaking. They may gravitate toward and be promoted in jobs that reward personal networks and interpersonal skills, e.g. negotiation and business development. After interacting with a skilled listener, people may not identify listening as the exact reason they are impressed, but they walk away with a sense of confidence and trust, and a positive impression. Those without the same skills in listening are fine, average, reasonable, even very good—but not unicorns.

Although I’ve made the case for listening as a unicorn skill, I am genuinely interested in others’ opinions of what the unicorn skill for lawyers may be.

For example, Lucy Endel Bassli has gone in a completely different direction, arguing that a unicorn lawyer is someone who “likes process and seeks data.”

When we look across the profession, what skill is under-appreciated, not commonly performed at a high level, and signifying truly excellent performance in the field? Have you ever interacted with someone you consider to be a “unicorn lawyer”? If so, what led you to that conclusion?

Client relationshipsEmotional intelligencein-house counselMentoringPeople skills

Lawyer as anxiety filter?

In-house lawyer @J_Dot_J has described it most directly:

A law student once shared a related concept to describe his coping mechanism, especially during finals:

“Some people are stress emitters. Some are stress receivers. I’ve learned I’m a stress receiver, and I have to stay away from the emitters.”

The common theme is anxiety. It comes from somewhere, and it goes somewhere. Is there any pattern to the movement of anxiety, and any way to manage it?

One possible answer to this question is “Bowen theory,” which is a theory of family systems that has been extended to the workplace as well. “Are organizations emotional systems also? It appears to be the case. Theoretically, all that is necessary to create an emotional system is spending time together.” This quote is from Roberta Gilbert’s The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory, which provides the basis for the following summary:

According to Bowen theory, the family—or workplace—unit is the key unit of analysis, rather than the individual. This unit is really a system of interconnected people, and it has two characteristics:

  1. Whatever affects one affects each one in the system. That is, anxiety moves easily from person to person in the group.
  2. [System] members trade “self” into the family relationship in a “fusion” of selves.

You may stop here and say that your team at work does not have these characteristics. If you’re correct, then you don’t have a true workplace unit and Bowen theory isn’t going to be helpful.

But it may be worth asking in a different way: Does anxiety move within your workplace? According to Gilbert, “where the anxiety travels defines the limits of the emotional system.” And does your workplace stake a claim on the workers in the system to “donate” some portion of their selves for work? Does the workplace send a message to “be like us” or “think as we think”? According to Gilbert, an emotional system is made up of these donations of self so that the donates parts become available “more for the family than for then individual.” In this way, members of a unit lose self into the larger unit. More togetherness means more loss of self, and quicker transmission of anxiety.

(When reading about this loss of self and its connection to “groupthink,” I was immediately reminded of compliance challenges and the work of my friend, compliance attorney Scott Killingsworth, on how organizational culture is transmitted and replicated.)

Individuals in a system are healthier and more resilient to the anxiety passed around in the group if they retain some core “differentiated self.”  The concept of the self has two components: a “pseudo self” which is the part that is tossed about by the anxiety of the group and conforms to the needs of the group, and the “basic [or solid] self” which is the part that fights for individuality and stands up for beliefs and convictions. The solid self is the differentiated self. The more the pseudo-self dominates the solid self, the more anxiety that member will feel and will contribute to the system.

Here, if you’re congratulating yourself on being an amazing differentiated person who feels absolutely no influence from your workplace, you may want to double-check yourself for some sort of emotional Dunning-Kruger effect. Gilbert states that if you looked at differentiated selves on a scale of 0 to 100, most of the population hovers around about a 30 and 50+ would be extremely unusual. But this is just an estimate; Gilbert notes that it’s impossible to measure differentiation in one segment of time. The conditions of any given moment are too arbitrary, and you can raise the functioning level of an undifferentiated person by giving them a compliment, and you can lower their functioning by criticizing them.

Within any unit, members of that unit deal with anxiety in four automatic and familiar patterns:

  • Making a triangle among three people, where one is the “problem” (such as a child, or a recalcitrant employee, or an attorney viewed as a roadblock)
  • Creating conflict by refusing to give in on major issues, expending significant energy
  • Seeking distance by slowing down or stopping communication, while still remaining emotionally defined by the problem
  • Overfunctioning / underfunctioning, in which one partner becomes more dominant and the other more passive.

These methods of dealing with anxiety are not a problem unless they become habitual and repetitive “where no one knows how to get out of it.”

There aren’t many references to Bowen theory in traditional legal literature. After reading enough to write this overview, I think it deserves more study, particularly as the legal industry becomes more focused on systems and processes. The law deals with unpredictable, complex problems; designing a system for helping clients with their problems will be much easier if the system of legal professionals is internally efficient and not clogged with stress and disrupted by attrition.

In future posts, I will explore some more ideas from Bowen theory and how they may apply in legal teams. Please comment if this overview prompted thoughts or questions.

Client developmentClient relationshipsLeadershipProfessional development

Executive Coaching for Lawyers as Leaders

Listen Like a Lawyer is pleased to share this Q&A with executive coach Greg Riggs. Greg is the former general counsel of a Fortune 100 company and he has also serve as Associate Dean at Emory Law School. Greg has devoted his career to professional development and now has a national practice as an executive coach with Novateur Partners LLC.

GLR Emory 2012 (2)Q:   My first question is very basic: What is executive coaching?

A:    That is a good question, and the answer is not obvious. There are many different types of coaches to help us with various aspects of our lives. We have all heard of athletic coaches, fitness coaches, wellness coaches, life coaches, and so on. Executive coaches work principally with professionals or leaders in organizations who want to do better at their jobs. They want to be more effective managers, team members, and performers. That is the scope of my approach to executive coaching.

Q:  What types of clients do you work with, typically?

A:  My practice tends to focus on senior and mid-level executives in the fields of business, law, and higher education. I have wanted to leverage the experience I gained from 35+ years in the legal, corporate and university environments and from serving as General Counsel in the C-suite of a Fortune 100 company. My clients have tended to be general counsels, law firm managing partners and other firm leaders, vice-presidents and above in large organizations, and university officials, including deans. I also coach high-potential individuals who are on their way to those positions.

Q:  The academic, legal, and business sectors all have different cultures and different ways of being effective. How do you work with people in those different sectors?

A: You’re so right that the cultures can vary dramatically in these different sorts of environments. But they all have one thing in common. That is, organizations in all of these areas need effective leaders to be successful.

Very often in the legal arena, people find themselves named to  leadership positions without really having had any training for the job. In law firms, for example, people who are terrific lawyers—high performers and high earners—are often the ones chosen for management positions. But they may have had no significant management experience whatsoever.

In the general counsel arena, people who have been really good in-house attorneys or outside attorneys find themselves in leadership positions and have to develop management skills on the fly. It’s the same with doctors in the hospital environment. Academic deans are another example. Deans who have been great academics, terrific writers, teachers, brilliant in what they do suddenly become CEO of a major, intricate, highly demanding organization. Executive coaches can be a very valuable resource for these academic leaders as they take on major challenges and handle dangers and traps they have never faced before.

Q:  There are an increasing number of classes and resources on law and leadership. But “law and leadership” is definitely not a common offering in the typical law-school curriculum. How would a lawyer or future lawyer get the information that they need for leadership when it’s not typically a part of their formal training?

A:  There are two sides to that question.

One of them is, where is the information? There are entire libraries and cottage industries built around teaching people how to be better leaders.

But then there is the application of that information. So it’s similar in a way to your own area of expertise, legal writing.  When we are in our 1L year in law school and we are trying to figure out how to gain our bearings in legal writing, we all take a course in legal writing and advocacy.  But I think I have heard you say that for many of us it is  a lifelong undertaking to be a really good legal writer.

It’s the same with leadership. We have to pay attention to what we are doing and apply principles that we learn that are meaningful to us. Then we have to  receive feedback and do it better next time. And next time might be this afternoon or tomorrow, because we are being called upon to exercise our leadership skills constantly when we have management positions.

Q:  What are some of the common themes that you seek get across with the professionals you coach?

A:  The number one headline is to develop an approach that allows you to leverage your own strengths and talents to find and bring your own personal best game.

We have all seen people who read books on leadership and then try to fabricate their approach to leadership using textbook methodology.  It rarely works very well because there is often a lack of authenticity. To be really effective we have to be ourselves—our best selves to be sure.

And the key there is to identify and then develop and bring out into the workplace those core skills, core talents, traits, and dispositions that we have inside of us in a way that is most effective in our interactions with other people.

Q:  Well, I can definitely understand how the idea of being authentic and being yourself is attractive. But what about a person you might work with who needed to work on a weakness—such as ineffective listening skills.  How would you go about working with someone on their listening?

A:  So listening is a vitally important skill, and very few of us do it very well. But let’s back up a little bit before we actually get to the act of listening, because when we talk about listening a preliminary question is: what are we listening for? What are we trying to capture in the listening enterprise, the listening moment?

One thing that I see fairly commonly for people who want to be more effective listeners is, they haven’t had a broader conversation with themselves along the lines of, what am I missing?  Sometimes people are perceived as not being good listeners when actually the issues they are grappling with are much broader. It is my observation that most don’t stop to ask ourselves, what are my blind spots? And, what do I need to get better at?

If I could come up with one word that applies to most of us, describing a skill that we need to be better at, it’s this: awareness. Being aware of how we are coming across to other people, for example. Many of us are not very good at discerning that.

Once we get a feel for how we come across in different settings, then we might ask, how are we affecting other people? How is our behavior being received by others? How is what we say landing on other people? We are often not very aware of that.

And we are also not aware of what’s happening in our minds.  We don’t notice what are we thinking about and what’s happening with our emotions. Without that awareness, we behave in ways that are often suboptimal.

So when we are listening to other people, there are various levels of listening. Often when we think we are listening it is at a superficial level with  a lot of distracting chatter going on in our minds. We are not really focusing; we are listening to ourselves in our minds more than we are listening to the other person.

Then there is a deeper level of listening, where we are really focused on paying total attention to what the individual is saying, not thinking so much about ourselves or our to-do list or how what the individuals is saying is affecting us.  We can call this “Level 2” listening.

And then there is a third level, a deeper intuitive listening where we are capturing—often without even being aware of it—the emotions of the other person, the way of thinking that the other person is displaying, the micro-expressions that we all have that reveal things about each other that we often fail to notice. If we can bring good listening skills to the workplace, to the dozens of conversations we have every day, we can capture much more information, use it much more effectively, and be more successful at what we do.

That’s a long answer to a good question.

Q: Someone who can get to that third level of listening is in a much better position to be professionally effective. But what if you have someone who is just not that good at listening? What can that person do to become more skillful?

A:  That is one thing that executive coaching is all about. I mean, if we could read a book on better listening, or on being a better conversationalist, on paying more attention, or focusing on the other person and then actually apply that knowledge in our daily interactions, that would be great. We have all read those types of books, but then do we apply the learning? Usually not, or at least not consistently.

How executive coaching is different than say seminars and courses and symposia is that it involves enabling feedback over an extended period of time. In my experience, it usually takes six to twelve months of leadership coaching for someone to notice consistent improvements in their effectiveness. Coaching engagements sometimes last longer than 12 months, but six months seems to be about the minimum length of time to heighten our awareness, learn to focus keenly on our interactions with others, and draw in the feedback we need to fine tune our approach. So that’s where coaching can really help.  We all need a partner, a thought partner, a mentor, a sounding board, a traveling partner as we explore better ways to be a leader. That’s what a coach does.

Q:  True, so that was actually one of my questions. I think a lot of people might want to be a better leader or a better communicator, but they may not have access to an executive coach. Can a person sort of “self-coach”? How can you get better on your own?

A:  It’s a great question. Let’s examine one example. Let’s say I want to be a better listener. People have told me I need to be a better listener. Okay, the next step is to make a decision: “I am going to be a better listener, and I am going to make a commitment to myself and maybe to others to do that.”

What’s the next step that we can do without seeking any help, without getting on anybody else’s calendar?  So we begin let’s say for the next week to make a commitment: “I’m going to experiment this week, and I am going to pay attention to listening and see what I can figure out, see what I can observe. I’m going to investigate this.”

So we begin the day with a pre-brief driving to work. “I’m going to be a better listener today, I commit to that. It may even involve putting a little note on the calendar before a meeting, before I go into a meeting I’m going to have a 60-second huddle with myself.  I’m going to try to listen better in this meeting.”

And then after the meeting have a debrief with onesself, because we need feedback to improve.  So the meeting lasts an hour, we come out of the meeting, and if we do not then think about that meeting, anything we may have learned or may learn from that meeting is gone forever, it’s just lost.

So part of the exercise then is giving ourselves feedback: “How well did I listen in that meeting? Where was my mind? I may have had a hundred thoughts that were extraneous to the meeting.  If I could recapture the flow of conversation that happened in that meeting, could I do it? Was I really paying attention?” And then as we expand our awareness, we can think, “Alright, what can I notice about what I said in response to other people?  How did I come across? What were the facial expressions of people around the table?” This type of exercise is about awareness and intentionality and feedback.

Q:  I hear you are breaking it down into distinct behaviors that you can think about and reflect on if those behaviors happen or not.

A:  Yes, so the beginning word is intentionality: “I intend, and I am really going to try to be a better listener this morning.” And then mid-day, renew or refresh that intention: “Listening is going to be my aim this afternoon.”

Q:  Have you found that people are too easy on themselves or too hard on themselves?  Because when you were talking about how you might debrief with yourself, I can imagine some people saying, “I was an incredible listener, I did everything right, it went so great.”  And then another group of people saying, “Oh it was terrible, I was a horrible listener all my efforts are of my efforts are you know for naught, and I’m never going to get better at this.”

How do you help people as a coach to have the accurate self-critique but also not be so tough on themselves?

Q: In my experience, most lawyers are very self-critical. That inner critic comes out and interprets and seizes interpretations of themselves usually in a negative way.  So there is a writer, Marilee Adams, who has done some great work in identifying that mode that we get in most of the time of being a judger: judging other people, judging ourselves, usually critically, often quite harshly.

That mode contrasts to being in a learner mode where we are curious instead of beating ourselves up. In learner mode, we want to be a learner and we’re curious in a non-judgmental way about what just happened: “What was I doing? What was I thinking? Where was my attention?” Then, for the next hour now, having been aware of what was happening to me in the last hour, I’m going to see if I can direct my attention in a more positive productive way.

Then it is uplifting, then it’s positive, then it doesn’t hurt, it actually feels good because learning feels good. Rarely do we put ourselves in learning mode. But we can, and it helps a lot.

Q: Before we close the Q&A, are there any other important topics we might talk about regarding executive coaching?

A: So the one message that I have with all of my clients, the one huge need that I see is the leadership arena, is taking time to pay attention to leadership. People that you and I work with, they work all the time—maybe 200  or even 300 hours a month or more. That’s a lot of time spent on their careers.

Most of the people that you and I work with are leaders or have leader or management responsibilities. But they usually spend sometimes close to zero minutes thinking about their leadership. They don’t spend any time thinking about how to be more effective, more influential and happier and more satisfied with what they do.

So to give priority, to pay a little bit of attention to leadership—just one percent or two percent of their time—can have a huge return on investment. We can all be better leaders and be happier in the process. That’s my message.

Q:  Sounds like a win-win.

A: It really is. Everybody wins.

 

 

 

Client developmentClient relationshipsin-house counselInnovationInterviews

Review: Katrina Lee’s The Legal Career

511sXW1U++L._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_Katrina Lee’s new book on the business of law, The Legal Career: Knowing the Business, Thriving in Practice (West 2017), starts by exploring the design of a law-firm office. Lee points out that the law office can be seen as a microcosm of the legal industry: evolution, yes, but also persistent adherence to the old ways. Newer office designs place greater value on “flexibility, openness, and collaboration.” There is less of a differential between the size of junior associates’ office square footage and that of partners. Law libraries may look more like “a comfortable coffee shop,” or even (heaven forbid) be known as a “lounge-brary.” Less emphasis on space for physical books opens up more space for all employees. Despite these changes, some firms polish the walnut-grained panels the way things always have been.

The Legal Career goes on to chronicle law-firm billing conventions and salary structures, as well as the “precipitous” drop in solo practitioners’ salaries over the past 30 years, and a growing role for legal professionals who are not licensed attorneys. Lee cites research from Heidi Gardiner of Harvard that effective collaboration among law-firm offices and practices groups leads to increased revenue.

Lee now teaches at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law; before that, she practiced law for 12 years including six as an associate and six as an equity partner. Her book brings together these two careers: it’s textbook for law-school courses in the business of law, with an admittedly heavy emphasis on civil practice. As Lee writes in her introduction, it is “law firm-centric.” It does include in-depth interviews with in-house counsel giving a helpful client’s perspective from within “the corporate law department.” Lee interviewed in-house counsel at a variety of companies ranging from Google to an Ohio-headquartered insurance company.

That is not to say The Legal Career is just a practical how-to manual for understanding the job market as it is and getting a job. That approach would simply replicate the current flaws and weaknesses of the legal industry; Lee’s book is more ambitious. For example, her interview with Dr. Silvia Hodges Silverstein delves into the Gender Billing study. Although female lawyers don’t work less than men and are not less productive, Dr. Silverstein’s study showed “clear” and “depressing” patterns: “[W]omen are assigned less strategic tasks, given more administrative work,” and “Male lawyers’ invoices were also less discounted than female lawyers’.”

The Legal Career explores other business problems and weaknesses such inefficiency and resistance to technological advances. Lee quotes D. Casey Flaherty: a client unhappy with a law firm’s advocacy or counsel should simply “get new lawyers.” But for complaints about the “content” and “production” of information as opposed to the underlying advocacy or counsel, a client may benefit from talking with their lawyer or law firm about better process and efficiency. In this regard, clients can drive change. Flaherty envisions the law firm as “long-term legal suppliers” and recommends more conversations between clients and lawyers to foster more efficient services for clients and more accurate, less discounted realization rates for firms.

Working efficiently raises the issue of incorporating project-management experts into the law-firm delivery model, and much broader involvement by professionals who are not licensed attorneys. Consistent with opinions of many in the law-firm innovation discussion, Lee questions the term “non-lawyer” as potentially “unproductive and unfriendly.” But what term should be used instead? And should lawyering be regulated differently to allow more “legal technicians” and the like? In this way, The Legal Career also takes on challenges with access to justice.

Near the end of The Legal Career, Lee explores the need for innovative legal education. Here again, the range of opinions offered is a strength of the book. One quote from William D. Henderson jumped out at me:

There’s a real opportunity here. Lawyers are always happy when they are solving their clients’ problems. It’s a great day when you solve your client’s problem. In this day and age, we’re going to solve a lot more problems better; that will bring a lot of psychic happiness to lawyering. The economic model for this is unclear, but it’ll sort itself out.

Lee doesn’t—and can’t—provide easy answers to such questions. She encourages creative discussion about the big issues facing lawyers, such as in a classroom setting. But a class on the business of law is not necessary to learn from this book. Anyone who reads The Legal Career will be challenged to reflect on their individual careers, the meaning and measurement of law-firm success, innovation in legal education and the legal industry, the role of lawyers in society, and the future of the profession.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Client developmentClient relationshipsCollaborationin-house counselLaw firm management

#InHouseTwitter

In-house counsel and anyone who works with them—such as, say, outside counsel—will be interested in the new hashtag, #InHouseTwitter, started this summer by @J_Dot_J. J.J.’s Twitter bio tells us she is an “employment/cyber-security lawyer, mom to a 2-boy wrecking crew, endorsed as ‘not half bad.'” She has shared some pithy—sometimes salty—advice from her in-house perspective and prompted an honest and growing discussion from other in-house counsel as well.

#InHouseTwitter is active at 4 p.m. Central on Thursdays. Follow the hashtag for announcements of upcoming topics. Most recently J.J. prompted a long thread on relationships with outside counsel:

The responses varied from the positive…

….to the negative

with many nuanced observations and anecdotes in between.

Client relationshipsCross-cultural communicationEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborGender

Emotions in writing

Listening and speaking can be empathetic. Even reading (reading literary fiction, that is) is connected with empathy. But what about writing? And specifically, what about legal writing? The textbooks concur that writers are supposed to harness not only logos and ethos but also pathos in their appellate briefs and other persuasive writing. But what about the pathos—the emotion—in everyday legal writing?

Ever since learning about IBM’s Watson Tone Analyzer, I’ve wanted to try it on some legal writing. I wanted to find out what a “robot” like Watson has to say about the voice and emotions in contrasting legal-writing samples. Here’s what Watson can do:

The [Watson Tone Analyzer] service uses linguistic analysis to detect and interpret emotions, social tendencies, and language style cues found in text. Tones detected within the General Purpose Endpoint include joy, fear, sadness, anger, disgust, analytical, confident, tentative, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional range.

As shown below, Watson offers an overall document-level analysis, and it highlights sentences that score particularly high on certain emotional indicators.

For this exploration, I chose the idea of an email sample because emails should be relatively short. Also, email is so prevalent in law practice. It’s a constant, quotidian part of life for many, many lawyers. Email doesn’t stop to ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” It just arrives. And it can have a major impact on the emotions of the recipient. “”When it comes to emails that are negative in tone, it makes you angry,” Professor Marcus Butts told Time Magazine, in an article about why email puts workers in a nasty mood—especially when checking email after normal business hours. The effect of such emails spills over: “Being angry takes a lot of focus and our resources and it keeps us from being engaged with other things.”

Given email’s potential emotional impact on the daily lives of lawyers, this post explores what the Watson Tone Analyzer had to say about two mocked-up emails. The two versions below both have the purpose of forwarding discovery requests to a client. The first version uses more formal language, and the second more conversational language. What does the Tone Analyzer say about these different versions? And in a more realistic situation, could the Tone Analyzer be useful to lawyers working on their communication skills? Following the text of the two emails, the post compares and contrasts how the Watson Tone Analyzer processed these emails.


Dear Ms. Smith,

Enclosed please find the Request for Production of Documents received yesterday (December 16, 2016) (“the Requests”) in the Acme v. Client matter. The Requests entail 136 different items, comprising five basic categories:

(1) foundational corporate documents for Acme;

(2) documents related to negotiation of the lease in question between Acme and Client;

(3) calendar items and email sent and received by three key employees during the negotiations, Jane Doe, John Smith, and Jamal Jones;

(4) documents related to discussions with Third Party Industrial; and(5) accounting records related to the lease between Acme and Client.

(5) accounting records related to the lease between Acme and Client.

After reviewing these Requests, please respond providing a convenient time next week for a phone conference to review them and discuss response strategies.

Sincerely,

Antoine Associate

Antoine J. Associate

Law Firm LLP

Citytown, RH

 


Dear Janel,

This message follows up on discovery in Acme v. Client. Yesterday we received another round of document requests. I’d like to set up a call with you next week to discuss them after you’ve had a chance to review them.

There were 136 individual requests, which are enclosed with this e-mail. The requests fall into five basic categories:

(1) foundational corporate documents for Acme

(2) documents related to the lease negotiation between Acme and Client

(3) calendar items and email sent and received by three key employees during the negotiations, Jane Doe, John Smith, and Jamal Jones

(4) documents related to discussions with Third Party Industrial

(5) accounting records related to the lease between Acme and Client.

Please take a look at the requests and then let me know when would be best for you to discuss them next week.

Many thanks,

Antoine

Antoine J. Associate

Law Firm LLP

Citytown, RH


So how did Watson analyze the emotions in these two messages?

Tone Analysis of First Sample:

The dominant emotion in this message was perceived as anger. Indications of disgust, fear, joy, and sadness were “unlikely.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.55.55 PM

The sentence-level analysis indicates that the anger emanates from plain, descriptive language (what the requests entail) and the final request (“please respond…”). The pink highlighted sentences below were flagged as moderately angry wording:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.58.10 PM

The language in this message was viewed as both analytical and confident, but not tentative. The analytical content is highlighted here in blue, with the dark blue being more intensely analytical than the light blue:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.59.25 PM

 

Interestingly, the confidence score appears to come solely from the signature block containing the words “Law Firm.” (The same is true of the second sample, where “Law Firm” were also the only text flagged for confidence. But the second sample’s overall confidence score at the document level is 0.00 (unlikely) compared with .63 (likely) for this first sample. More on that later.)
Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.00.35 PM

The same text can be studied in more depth for its social tendencies including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional range. For example, the language “Enclosed please find” was ranked as conscientious but not open, extraverted, or agreeable.  That language also scored high on emotional range. That same language was also flagged for showing anger.

Among the five items in the email’s numbered list of documents, item (3) seemed to be an emotional hot spot for Watson, scoring relatively high on all five of the emotional parameters. This result was notable because item (3) is the only item in the list that included individual people’s full names.

Here are the metrics for agreeableness, which form an interesting contrast with the second sample below. The greeting and sign-off are in light green, indicating moderate agreeableness. The only line with strong agreeableness was that same item (3) listing calendar items and emails sent by specific individuals by name. (In contrast, the second sample below tried to be friendlier and succeeded, as indicated by the more strongly agreeable opening and closing passages.)

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.05.01 PM

Tone Analysis of Second Sample

The second email was meant to be more friendly. What it accomplished, according to Watson, was slightly lessening the anger score and raising the joy score. The joy score is still “unlikely,” but it’s at .49 instead of 0.18 in the first sample. Although it’s less angry and more joyful, it also completely lost its confidence score.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.05.46 PM

Despite the overall attempt to use friendlier language, anger still emanated from the email, specifically the sentence enclosing the discovery requests:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.07.41 PM

But joy came from the revised beginning and closing words:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.08.32 PMThe message did not rank on sadness, fearfulness, or disgust.

Watson’s evaluation of the language looks for analytical, confident, and tentative language. The more informal email’s language was also measured as analytical and confident, like the more formal first sample. Unlike the formal sample, it was also somewhat tentative. The source of this tentativeness was a sentence about what the writer “would like to do”:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.10.19 PM

Not surprisingly, that same sentence was also ranked as agreeable:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.11.12 PM

Quantitatively, the informal sample contained more agreeable language, ranking 0.89 on agreeableness compared to 0.67 for the first sample.

Conclusion

What did I conclude from analyzing these two samples using Watson’s Tone Analyzer? Like many AI analysis, it seemed to confirm what I think I already know.

  1. Legal information is not inherently happy, at least not in a litigation setting. The most “angry” language in both messages was the language simply describing the scope of discovery.
  2. Language that is more tentative and less confident may also be more agreeable. This correlation raises many questions: does tentative language compromise clarity? If so is it worth it to sound more agreeable? Different writers, readers, and situations will of course require different decisions.
  3. Watson’s Tone Analzyer may be helpful to some writers on a limited basis. As with any computer analysis of language such as Flesch-Kincaid readability scores, writers should ask whether the computer analysis could help them. I don’t see legal writers building Watson’s Tone Analyzer into a checklist for every email. But it could be a worthwhile exercise just on a couple of messages, to see what predominant tone Watson diagnoses.

And as with any computer analysis of language, take it with a grain of salt. I tested Watson on litigators’ favorite nastygram conclusion:

“Govern yourselves accordingly.”

The results are below but here’s a summary: Its predominant language was sadness (?????). Its most notable social tendencies, according to the Tone Analyzer, were extraversion and agreeableness.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.28.57 PM

The “govern yourselves accordingly” analysis notwithstanding, a “robot” such as the Tone Analyzer could create an interesting exercise for trying different words and seeing how they measure. So . . . govern yourselves accordingly.

Note on use of Watson: these screen shots were taken on April 25 and 26, 2017. The metrics appear to have changed slightly from tests about six months earlier on identical language. Thus a final lesson is to know your tool and stay updated. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples if relying on quantitative analysis of language. 

Client relationshipsEmotional intelligenceLegal communicationmindfulnessSmartphones

Preparing to listen

Preparing to write means adopting some kind of routine or even a ritual: get coffee, gather some pads and paper, sit down at the computer, procrastinate a little bit online, and then get to it. Preparing to speak means making notes, practicing to a friendly audience, maybe putting on a lucky piece of jewelry or a power tie.

 What does it mean to prepare to listen?

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting a CLE with communication consultant Jennie Grau and Canadian family lawyer and mediator Anita Dorczak for the Nebraska Bar Association in partnership with the International Listening Association. The ILA was holding its annual meeting in Omaha, which gave Jennie, Anita, and I the opportunity to collaborate in person on this outside-the-box-in-a-good-way CLE.

Based on attorney feedback, one of the most talked-about parts of the CLE was Anita’s segment on preparing to listen. She shared this checklist on Preparing to Listen, courtesy of Professor Nadine Marsnik and the International Listening Association where it is posted.

The checklist prompts thought on readiness to listen. Here is just a preview:

  • Are you physically prepared to listen?

Being hungry—or worse, “hangry”—is an example of not being physically prepared to listen.

  • Are you mentally prepared to listen?

Being mentally prepared means, in part, learning about the topic you will be listening to, so you can get the most out of what you will hear. 

  • Are you emotionally prepared?

Effective listening means the listener knows their own triggers and worries that may be distracting. It also means not judging a speaker for using poor grammar. 

During the listening CLE, Anita Dorczak also supplemented the checklist with a broader, more holistic kind of preparation: a brief, focused walking meditation. As someone who struggles to sit still and meditate, I found this walking meditation a more “do-able” format. And as Anita told the CLE participants, the beauty of a walking meditation is that you can take something you already do—walk, as in walk to chambers or walk to a client meeting or walk down the hall—and make it more mindful. After trying this meditation format just for a few minutes during the CLE, I could definitely understand how it calms the mind and could help with preparing to listen.

Jennie Grau and I presented on other aspects of listening such as models of what it means to listen, listen to understand versus listening to reply, and ethics issues related to listening. I’ll share more about that work in a future post.