Category: Law school

Clinical legal educationLaw practiceLaw schoolLegal communicationLegal skills

Listening to yourself speak

With the beginning of the new Supreme Court term and the opening of moot court season in law schools, this is an opportune time to study techniques for listening to yourself. By recording yourself giving a practice speech or oral argument and then studying the tape, you can greatly improve your effectiveness as a speaker.

But watching yourself speak can be challenging. First, there is the hurdle of . . . just watching yourself speak. For many, it’s a painful experience. If you can get past the discomfort, forcing yourself to watch tape can reveal distracting unconscious behaviors that you can then begin to curb.

The analytical content of a presentation may be more difficult to deconstruct by watching tape. Seeing your nonverbal behaviors on tape may prevent you from focusing on the content. And hearing your own speech again may actually reinforce the content in your mind, rather than helping you recognize gaps and weaknesses.

To listen to yourself and engage deeply with your own content, you need to listen specifically and critically. One innovative and powerful method for doing so is demonstrated in a wonderful Brain Pickings post here. In the post and embedded video, presentation guru Nancy Duarte breaks down Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Her visual analysis deconstructs the speech’s rhythm and rhetorical components. The post and Duarte’s embedded videos are well worth your time for so many reasons.

For lawyers working on a particular speech or oral argument or presentation, Duarte’s methods could be extremely useful. To listen to yourself using Duarte’s method, consider using audio as she does. This eliminates the distraction of seeing yourself. And it frees up your brain to think about the key issues she is focusing on: the segments and breaks in the speech, and the type of content delivered at different times.

Listening to yourself speak

1. First, find the natural breaks in your presentation.

Working from the transcript of your practice presentation, insert hard returns where you paused. This technique reveals the shape of what you are saying. Duarte organizes Dr. King’s speech on a timeline running across the page and inserts the breaks vertically. But you could do it horizontally on a regular typed page to obtain many of the same benefits.

This method by itself can help you hear whether the speech on paper is actually appropriate in spoken form. If you have an overwhelming eight-sentence paragraph in your draft speech, you’re going to have to insert more breaks. This method also can help you hear whether the pauses are coinciding with what you want to emphasize—or, as is sometimes the case, you are hesitating to pause at all.

2. Code your content, and examine proportions and patterns.

The second step in Duarte’s method is to color-code the material to show its proportions and patterns. Duarte uses a coding system appropriate for studying Dr. King’s speech within the rhetorical context of the civil rights movement. Lawyers using Duarte’s method to work on an oral argument or CLE presentation would obviously want to modify the color-coding system to fit the situation. The content you would code for varies by context, but here is a possible idea for coding a practice opening statement:

  • Duarte coded repetition in light blue. In listening to an opening statement, a lawyer might use light blue to code the theme of the case. (Ideally there would be some repetition of the theme. This method would reveal how often and when the theme cropped up.)
  • She coded metaphors and visual words in pink. A lawyer might use pink to code vivid descriptions of the testimony to follow.
  • She coded songs, scriptures, and literature in green. A lawyer might use green for cultural references (although whether to even use cultural references in a jury setting is a topic for another blog).
  • She coded political references in orange. A lawyer might use orange for legal standards and references to the role of the jury.

Duarte appears to have used some sophisticated software to generate the timeline and graphic components of the speech. But with a transcript and a simple word-processing program that allows text highlighting, lawyers could apply the same method. Speech-to-text applications such as Dragon Dictation could make this process even easier.

The benefits of Duarte’s method are not limited to speeches and formal presentations. Lawyers and law students practicing for oral argument could apply the same method to break down the way they are answering questions and managing the argument:

  • Are your answers transitioning from defensive content into more positive, affirmative arguments? [Color-code red for defensive statements and green for affirmative statements.]
  • Are your answers bringing in legal support? [Color-code yellow for facts and green for law.]
  • Are your answers lingering too long on answers or, conversely, are they so concise as to seem clipped or not fully supported? [Color-code orange for the answer to the question and purple for the return to the main argument.]

[Aside on the topic of writing: Breaking down your writing through color-coding for specific content is just as effective when the writing is intended to be read, rather than spoken. Mary Beth Beazley popularized this method for teaching legal writing in The Self-Graded Draft: Teaching Students to Revise Using Guided Self-Critique, available from the Journal of the Legal Writing Institute here. Duarte’s presentation on “I Have a Dream” shows this type of method is not just for beginners confronting a new genre such as “IRAC.” It is revealing and productive for the most sophisticated writers and speakers among us.]

Of course only the rare and gifted orators can even come close to the achievement of “I Have a Dream.” But everyone who prepares and delivers speeches and oral arguments can benefit from practicing and really listening to what that practice reveals. We can then critically examine what we are doing and how to make it better.

Law schoolLegal education

Listening check-up for first-semester law students

Every fall, every entering class of 1Ls faces a “paradox of comprehension,” writes Kris Franklin of New York Law School (here).  These brand-new law students have neither a framework for understanding legal concepts nor a solid legal vocabulary. Yet they have to somehow learn the law. As Franklin asks, “How do [they] enter this apparently closed circle?”

Open and Closed by Clearly Ambiguous

Courtesy Flickr/Open and Closed by Clearly Ambiguous

Listening is particularly challenging for listeners with no framework for the concepts or even the particular words used to express those concepts. To quote Terrill Pollman of UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law, “It’s like learning to speak Chinese by being dropped from an airplane in the middle of China.”

Now that first-year law students have had about six to eight weeks of this disorienting experience, it’s a good time to reflect on the listening and learning experience so far.  “How can I know whether I am listening effectively?” the mid-fall-semester 1L rightfully asks. Evaluating your own listening is difficult in any context, but here are a few thoughts. Evaluating what works and what doesn’t work can help lead to a more effective rest of the semester.

1. Self-evaluate what you are doing in class.

If you find yourself looking at unrelated Internet sites during slow moments in class, what you are doing is not working.

2. Talk to a friend about what you just got out of class.

Pick one particular class and discuss it in depth with someone. Go over what you heard and took away from what the professor said and what discussion revealed. Revisit what was said, and what you think the professor meant, in as much detail as you can.

3. Visit the professor during office hours.

Explain that you would like to check how well you are doing at listening to class sessions. Offer to restate your understanding of some segment of the class, such as one case discussed during a class session. You may not want to present this discussion as a blanket request to go over an entire class session again. The professor may be more amenable to the conversation if you frame the discussion with a more specific question and show what you are thinking about the material.

4. Look at your notes and maybe a classmate’s too.

After class one day, compare what you just experienced to what you wrote down. Expert note-taking advice often suggests not recording everything the speaker is saying, but rather working to process and prioritize the information as take notes. That is fine if you know what you’re doing. But at the beginning of law school (as well as at the beginning of any new course) you may find it more useful to err on the side of recording more of what’s happening. Consider also comparing notes—literally—with a classmate. What did each of you take away from class? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your note-taking systems?  And what are the differences in what each of you picked up from the experience? Seeing someone else’s approach to the same task can help you customize what works for you.

5. Evaluate how much you are just “letting go.”

Also make sure your notes don’t commit the sin of omission. What if you don’t understand something the professor is saying, or the point of a long Socratic back-and-forth with a classmate on call?  If you take no notes because of the confusion, then that material may be lost forever. Write down some snippets as well as a notation that you are confused and need to study this in more depth.

6. Try a practice exam question or two.

Apart from any formal practice exam your law school may offer or require, you can evaluate your listening by taking a practice exam on your own. If available, one of your professor’s own exams will work best. Practicing the traditional way by answering the question under normal time constraints will certainly help you. You might also want to try a practice question by specifically focusing on your listening. Look at the exam question, take a few moments to think, and write down what major issues it seems to cover. Do not look at your notes yet. Instead, thoroughly scan your memory for what the professor—as well as classmates—said about these issues in class. Try to remember speech snippets and even jokes and nonverbal behavior during the dialog. After priming your brain this way, work on answering the question in writing. You probably would not take an actual exam this way, but it could be helpful for keeping your classroom memories fresh, thinking broadly about themes in the class, and not getting too tied to your notes as having “the” answer.

7. Listen to a podcast recording of class or record a class, if possible.

Recoding and re-listening to every class may not be feasible. But going back over a recorded class session and studying your notes from the first time around may help you to catch nuances of the particular class that you missed. It may also help you catch nuances of what is happening in class more generally: is the professor criticizing the result or reasoning in a case? Is the professor comparing and contrasting two approaches to the same case? What are the hypotheticals that the professor lays out, and are they explored to their fullest or left unresolved for possible future analysis—say, on an exam.

8. Rest your ears and listen to nature.

If you pop in the earbuds right after class, you may be depriving your brain of the chance to process and file what you just heard in class. Yes, music and speech are different and perhaps do not compete in the brain, but still:  Try giving your listening circuits more time to work on what you have learned in class.

You may also benefit from spending time in nature. Spending a bit of time away from a computer—instead seeing, hearing, and even smelling the natural world—can reduce stress and boost creativity.

Many thanks to Professor Terrill Pollman for helpful feedback on this article.

Clinical legal educationLaw schoolLegal communicationLegal skillsPeople skills

Effective Listening During Fact Investigation

Today Listen Like a Lawyer brings you this conversation with Emory Law Professor Paul Zwier, director of Emory’s Advocacy Skills Program, co-author of Fact Investigation: Interviewing, Case Analysis, and Case Theory Development, and noted speaker with the National Institute of Trial Advocacy.

Many thanks to Professor Zwier for sharing his thoughts on establishing a rapport with your client, active listening for empathy and for information, and developing listening skills over the course of your legal career. To quote his book, “Without expertise in both asking questions and listening, the lawyer as fact researcher is likely to fail.”

Law practiceLaw schoolLegal communicationLegal educationLegal skills

Updated listening resources

This week’s end-of-the-week update highlights Listen Like a Lawyer’s growing list of listening resources. The list is here, and can always be found on the left panel of the blog in the menu item “Listening Resources.”

The updates include several articles from the Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog, as well a number of additional books on listening. My favorite title, I confess, is Rule #1: Stop Talking!

There are some very valuable insights in these collected resources, and I would be grateful if blog readers suggested more. The resource list will continue to grow. And likewise, Listen Like a Lawyer will continue to explore ideas about listening, placing a particular focus on the needs of lawyers and other legal professionals, as well as law students and professors.

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!

Clinical legal educationLaw practiceLaw schoolLegal communicationLegal education

Welcome

Welcome to Listen Like a Lawyer. This blog will explore the theory and practice of effective listening, and how lawyers, law students, and just about everyone involved in the practice of law can benefit from working on their listening. Effective listening provides a distinct advantage to anyone whose job involves communication—a description that certainly fits lawyers.

The motivation for this project is twofold.

1. Good listening makes good lawyering

First, good listening is a necessary component of good lawyering. Lawyers who are powerful listeners can negotiate more effectively, answer judges’ questions more responsively, communicate more completely with clients, and otherwise enhance their relationships and effectiveness in almost all aspects of their practice.

2. Listening is in jeopardy

Second, I have a sense—and don’t think I’m alone in perceiving—that listening skills are deteriorating among lawyers and the general public. Distractions and the dominance of visual media and written communication are sapping our attention and our strength at gleaning auditory information. The foundation for these beliefs, as well as challenges and counter-arguments, will be topics explored during the life of the blog.

Who this blog is for

The intended audience is anyone interested in effective communication by lawyers. I think this group includes, at a minimum, lawyers, law students, in-house counsel and others who regularly work with lawyers, judges and mediators, law professors (particularly clinicians and those who teach communication- and skills-based courses), and other professionals in the legal industry. I hope to draw on a variety of source from academic to practical to totally outside the box.

This is a conversation about listening and lawyering

The benefit of the blog format is that it permits and encourages a flexible, responsive flow of ideas. Please make constructive comments, and e-mail me at jromig@emory.edu if you want to comment privately or discuss possibilities for guest blogging. Thank you, and enjoy the blog’s journey exploring what it means to listen like a (really good) lawyer.