Category: Interviews

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

InterviewsLaw schoolLegal communicationLegal educationNon-verbal communication

Non-Verbal Persuasion

This guest post summarizes the authors’ presentation, “Beyond Words: What Business Schools Can Teach Us About Non-Verbal Persuasion” at last week’s Association of Legal Writing Directors Biennial Conference held at the University of Minnesota Law School.

By Erin Carroll, Georgetown Law, and Shana Carroll, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

The practice of law places great emphasis on words. Yet, how we communicate transcends words. Studies confirm that when we (lawyers and non-lawyers alike) speak, our tone, volume, pace, stance, gestures, and expression may convey more to our listeners than the words we use.

carroll-profile-200-287Most law schools teach oral presentation skills during the 1L year in the context of the appellate argument or the meeting with the supervising attorney. But often these skills are afterthoughts to a focus on written work. And even in teaching these skills, professors may unduly home in on the substance of arguments rather than on the way they are delivered and how listeners receive them.

Given the realities of legal practice, law schools would do well to conceptualize presentation skills more broadly. Law professors should consider the range of situations in which students will present and how those presentations could be more effective, putting aside their substance.

Business schools can serve as a model. Business school curriculums generally recognize that innumerable interactions in the working world are indeed presentations. Pitching clients, negotiating deals, running an effective meeting, and reviewing employees, for example, qualify. They all offer opportunities for speakers to consider and shape how they want the listener to understand their message.

Carroll_Shana

This is no less true for lawyers. Lawyers—at least those in the private sector—are also businesspeople, bringing in clients, doing deals, and interacting with colleagues. Public sector lawyers, too, negotiate, interview, and supervise. Interactions that fall into any of these broad categories can be bettered by adroit presentation skills.

Accordingly, we urge our business and law school students to think about how they can use their voices and their body language to drive home their intended meaning. That means focusing on volume, pace, tone, emphasis, stance, and an array of other paralinguistics (the qualities of how something is said rather than what is said) as well as gestures and expressions.

First, to familiarize our students with the multitude of means by which we communicate to our listeners, we have done the following exercises:

  • Ask students to find a video of a speaker they find particularly effective or ineffective. Have them post the video to a discussion board along with a description of why that speaker was effective or not. To the extent a student’s description is generic, press the student to substantiate it by indicating particular paralinguistic qualities or aspects of body language.
  • Alternatively, have students watch a video in class, identify these qualities, and discuss them. We have used this video of the 1992 presidential debate between Bill Clinton and George Bush, and this video of a press conference given by Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP, just weeks after the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

For either exercise, create a list of the different paralinguistic qualities and aspects of body language that can impact meaning. These could include: volume, pace, inflection, facial expression, movement, and fluidity. Professors might also discuss the importance of congruence between body language, paralinguistics, and message in conveying meaning.

In our classes, once students have some comfort with identifying and critiquing the presentation skills of others, we give them the opportunity to experiment. Here are a couple of things we suggest:

  • Start with a quick, kinesthetic exercise that gets students to hear the range of sentiment their voices can convey and see how their body language can impact meaning. We accomplish this by asking students to pretend they are ordering a ham sandwich. Students line up around the perimeter of the classroom and one by one come up to a podium at the front. Once they get there, we shout out a descriptive word like “despondent,” “angry,” “elated,” or “frustrated.” Students must then try to express that emotion when they say the following sentence: “I would like a ham sandwich with the works.” All sorts of sentences could be substituted here, but we like that this exercise uses something that feels a bit silly as a means of easing nerves.
  • Students are then ready to try out those same skills in a more serious scenario. Pass out slips of paper that include a couple of sentences that students might actually say in an upcoming presentation. For example, if oral arguments are approaching, short excerpts from student briefs could be used. Once students have their “script,” they get a couple of minutes to prepare to present it. During that time, students can think about what meaning they want to convey to the listener and how they can use volume, pace, tone, emphasis, gestures (and any other skills the class has discussed) to best do it. Students could be encouraged to experiment with different variations to identify which approach works best given their objective. They could also be placed in pairs or small groups and allowed to practice and get feedback from one another. Students could then be asked to volunteer to share their version with the class.

Of course, there are many, many other exercises that emphasize paralinguistic and nonverbal communication skills. These could include, for example, exercises on articulation or stance. What will be most helpful depends, of course, on the students’ and professors’ goals.

Regardless, law professors should keep in mind just how broad presentation skills are, how often students will use them in practice, and the variety of ways to teach them. We want to ensure that we are helping students improve their ability to persuade beyond simply teaching them to make a well-reasoned argument.

 

Client developmentClient relationshipsClinical legal educationCollaborationInterviews

Categories of listening

Katrina Lee from Ohio State tweeted earlier this week:

The article referred to in her tweet is by  Jim Lovelace, Director of Talent Development at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, and was published in the ABA Law Practice Today.

As Katrina said, it is a quick read. And it’s a pretty powerful read, too. The essential premise is that to be effective, a listener must move beyond “self-focused listening.” What does that mean?

In my 25 years of experience as a practicing lawyer and legal career development professional, I have observed that lawyers spend the vast majority of their work time—when they are not talking, that is—as self-focused listeners. When they hear others’ stories, their minds are occupied with: What are the flaws and where are the potential liabilities? Where is the “good stuff” on which I can build a case? They dig for facts, often asking for more information to construct their narratives and theories. This is not surprising. This is what lawyers have been taught, from law school onward, to do.

But there’s more to listening than this self-focused approach. Lovelace introduces empathic listening and comprehensive listening, two other categories of listening that may not be right for a contentious deposition but are very, very right for interpersonal situations at work. Lovelace uses a hypothetical in which a trusted senior associate blindsides the senior partner by announcing he’s leaving the firm. Different listening methods can affect not just the tone but the outcome of such conversations.

Lawyers love categories, and somebody this blog will have a pull-down menu listing the many categories of listening that communications experts have identified. When it comes to (1) self-focused listening, (2) empathetic listening, and (3) comprehensive listening, Lovelace’s article is an excellent introductory resource. It doesn’t take long to read, and it’s really good. Thanks for the tweet recommending the article, Katrina!

CollaborationEmotional intelligenceInterviewsLaw practicePeople skills

It’s interview season

For law students working on fall campus-interviewing opportunities, here is a roundup of posts on listening during interviews:

And a few additional posts of interest to candidates facing interviews:

 

InterviewsLaw schoolPeople skillsUncategorized

Effective Listening During Callback Interviews

Last week Listen Like a Lawyer explored the process of effective listening during a job interview from preparation to thank-you note. Callbacks present some special listening opportunities and challenges. Here are some key points to keep in mind about effective listening during the callback process, courtesy of the Assistant Dean for Career Development at the University of Colorado Law School, Todd Rogers.

rogers_todd

  • Understand that the callback interview begins the moment the interview invitation is extended. If the invitation comes by phone be prepared to listen carefully to the options for interview date and time, and respond as quickly as you can—preferably on the spot. Also, be sure to ask all the relevant logistical questions, such as whom to ask for once you arrive at the office, and the identities of all the attorneys with whom you’ll meet.
  • If your invitation comes by email, consider calling to confirm your interest and to schedule a date and time. This simple gesture demonstrates your enthusiasm and gives you another opportunity to listen and learn potentially useful information.
  • When you arrive on site, realize that everyone you meet should be considered part of the interview process. Afford the same respect, and listening attention, to attorneys and support staff alike.
  • As a way to settle your nerves once the formal interviews begin, remember that you’ve already impressed the firm enough to make the initial cut. By relaxing, you will promote a “less interrogation, more conversation” atmosphere. The attorneys with whom you meet are more likely to form a favorable impression of candidates who project confidence and express genuine interest in their work.
  • A big part of projecting genuine interest is to ask good questions. Examples include questions that focus on the summer program and the attorneys’ experiences at the firm; avoid those involving money, hours worked, and distant events such as partnership decisions. Listen intently to the answers and ask meaningful follow-up questions.
  • You’ll also have an opportunity to demonstrate that you listened carefully during the initial interview. You can refer to tidbits of information you learned in the initial interview and asked follow-up questions, such as, “When I interviewed on campus, we spent a few minutes discussing the firm’s summer program.  Can you tell me more about how work is assigned to summer associates?”
  • As you listen to the answers, take mental notes. You’ll tap into this reserve later, as you write thank-you notes that incorporate details of the interviews, and as you weigh the pros of cons of employment offers.

Many thanks to Assistant Dean Rogers for sharing these thoughts. And good luck to all the law students handling interviews at every stage.

InterviewsLaw schoolLegal educationPeople skills

Listening During Interviews: Advice for Law Students

A job interview presents a listening challenge: Of course you want to show you are a great listener, but it’s also important to talk. “Most impressive are interviewees who are able to enter into a dialogue with their interviewers,” advises a hiring attorney quoted in An Insider’s Guide to Interviewing: Insights from the Employer’s Perspective, available from the National Association for Law Placement here and probably from any law school’s career services office.

Real dialogue requires real listening, which takes preparation beforehand and execution during the interview. You can continue to reap the benefits of good listening with a thoughtful thank-you note afterwards as well.

1. Prime yourself to listen by preparing beforehand.

Listening is very difficult when the listener is confused or nervous. Interview preparation helps cut down on both of these problems.

To minimize confusion, study for the interview. Learn about the type of interview you are facing and what to expect. Review your own resume and make notes on experiences to highlight and themes about your work history and ambitions. Research the interviewer—the agency, firm, or organization, as well as the individual lawyers doing the interviewing, if possible.

To cut down on nervousness, make sure to take advantage of practice interviews. You can practice on your own as well: role-play questions and answers out loud. All of this preparation will help you listen more effectively in the real thing.

2. Eliminate distractions and use effective nonverbal behavior.

Distracting behavior is terrible because (1) it can actually distract you; and (2) it can make you look distracted—and therefore like a bad listener—even if you are neither.

Thus, don’t look at your phone during an interview. Ever. (Having a mortally ill family member might be the rare exception, with an up-front explanation to the interviewer on why the phone is necessary.)

Other objects besides phones can distract as well, from change in the pocket to a pen or corner of a leather folder. Practice interviews can help you identify and eliminate your potential distractions.

Conversely and on a more positive note, your nonverbal behavior can send a message that you are a fantastic listener. Particular cues consistent with effective listening include good eye contact and body posture. When you are listening, your body is likely to use these nonverbal cues on its own. But you can also help your listening by using the nonverbal cues to help yourself focus.

3. Have a conversation.

“Liking” is one of the crucial levers of persuasion listed in Robert Cialdini’s great book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (2006). Audiences are more likely to be persuaded by speakers that they like.

An extremely effective way to get someone to like you is to have a rewarding conversation with them. Good conversations generate positive feelings, advises Lydia Russo, Emory Law School’s Assistant Dean for Professional Development and Career Strategy:

“Doesn’t it feel good when you are sharing a story and the listener makes you feel like what you have to say matters? It’s the same in an interview. Do your best to convey that you are listening intently and genuinely – this makes the interviewer feel validated.”

Part of what makes a conversation effective is genuine, spontaneous responses, according to Daniel Diffley, a partner at Alston & Bird LLP and the chair of Alston’s Atlanta summer program. “At some point during interviews, I always try to give students the opportunity to ask questions of me, whether about the summer program or practice in general. And you can tell if they are not listening because they ask a question and then I answer it, and then they move on to an unrelated question.”

Diffley noted that the best listeners may use the interviewer’s answers as a chance to respond and ask more questions. “I’ve had some great interviews where I feel like I’m being interviewed,” he said. Effetive listeners also can use the flow of the conversation to smoothly work in their prepared talking points about their own experiences and interests, Diffley said.

4. Develop a framework for understanding the questions.

You are learning as you listen. Learning theory teaches us that we learn best when we already have a “schema” in place for understanding the new information. Basically that means you have a mental framework in place for how to think about the new information coming in.

Schemas help with learning new information in any form, including by listening. For example: as a first-year law student, your schema for understanding the law was probably not well developed yet, so listening to law school classes could be confusing at times. As a 2L or 3L, you should have a much stronger schema for comprehending and using legal information. (Caution: representative theoretical support on schema and listening comprehension can be found here.)

So in terms of job interviews, you can develop a schema for interviewing. Construct a mental framework for types of questions and conversations that take place in an interview. This does not mean a list of all possible questions that the interviewer could conceivably ask, but an overall framework of what an interviewer is after.

Here’s one nice breakdown of what employers are looking for, in documentation from the University of San Francisco Law School:

  • Can you do the job? (qualifications)
  • Will you do the job? (motivation)
  • Are you a good fit? (social skills)

This framework (or a similar way of thinking) should help you with listening and thinking during the interview. In particular, it should help you comprehend and formulate quicker, better responses to specific questions.

5. Listen to the interviewer’s words and actions.

The interviewer’s nonverbal behavior is sending you messages as well. Listen to them. As the Career Development Office at the UC Berkeley School of Law advises, “You should also ‘listen’ to body language. Be sensitive to cues of boredom or impatience.” If an interviewer indicates interest in a topic by leaning forward and making open gestures, then consider the cue to continue with more information about your point.

6. Listen to your inner speech too—but only if it helps.

 “Although most of us don’t like to admit it, we all carry on a stream of internal conversation with ourselves.” – Judi Brownell, Listening: Attitudes, Principles, and Skills 110 (4th ed. 2010).

It’s hard to listen when your brain is talking a mile a minute inside your head. Preparation can reduce some of these nerves, but inner speech will still be there. The trick is to use it to help you during the interview.

Inner speech sits at the intersection where listening and thinking come together.  Thus, it can help you “relate or link what you hear to your previous experiences,” as Brownell notes in her book. So in an interview, if your inner speech says, “She is asking about teamwork. Talk about the service trip!” then your inner speech is acting as your helper and advocate. Be thankful.

Inner speech can also help you “regulate or control your behavior as you reflect on the wisdom of your choices” (again from Brownell’s book). In a law school interview, your inner speech may say something like “You’ve been talking a lot. Try asking a question.” Again, here the inner speech is quite helpful.

But when your inner speech is too negative or too frequent, try to push it to the side and focus on the person and conversation right in front of you.

7. Follow up to show your listening–and your interest in the job.

Whether it’s in the form of a letter or an e-mail, your follow-up after the interview can reinforce your listening skills. Alston’s Diffley noted that follow-up notes are just “good form,” and can serve the further purpose of demonstrating your recall of the interview. He advises taking a few notes immediately after the interview to help with crafting a good follow-up.

In sum, effective listening can enhance your overall performance in a job interview in many ways. Good luck!