Winning Communication

Screaming, stomping of feet, emphatic clapping of hands, jumping in the air, waiving of arms, reddening of faces, and scissor-kicking of legs. These are not the recently observed behaviors of a toddler throwing a temper tantrum as one might think. Over the past month I have watched numerous coaches exhibit all of those behaviors at the college and high school level. Some coaches will do almost anything to get through to their players. If a coach constantly screams at a player, the message gets drowned out in the noise. Instead of effective communication you end up with player resentment and confidence issues. A coach may need to yell and holler at times to make a point or get a player’s attention. The lack of communication occurs when the coach is doing nothing but yelling and hollering.

A lawyer is a lot like a coach. Like a coach must communicate with his or her players, lawyers must communicate with juries and judges. Just as in coaching, lawyers employ many different methodologies to be persuasive to a judge or jury. However, most judges do not take too kindly to the waiving of arms, stomping of feet, or the raising of voices. Effective lawyers must learn to bridle the passion they feel for their case and present a clear, concise argument or theme. This requires much preparation and thought. A prepared lawyer trumps a charismatic lawyer who failed to prepare and is relying force of personality.

Because of the hard work that goes into preparation, it is easy to become frustrated when the judge views things differently. A good lawyer finds a way to stay calm in these situations. While a coach may get a technical foul for yelling at an official, a lawyer can end up in jail for contempt of court if things are pushed too far. It can be difficult for lawyers to find the right balance because the very aggressive attributes that make them effective advocates are the ones that can get them in trouble with the judge. It is a balance every lawyer must strive to achieve. I will always be grateful to the judge who pulled me into chambers in the middle of a trial to warn me, without singling me out in front of the jury, when I was approaching (and maybe even inching past) the line separating advocacy and anger. That experience helped me learn the proper balance between passionate communication and the ranting of an over-worked trial lawyer.

If you need the services of a lawyer, seek one out who is an effective communicator. If your lawyer cannot communicate with you in a clear and easily understandable manner, then chances are he or she will be unable to do so with the judge or jury. If you find yourself getting frustrated due to lack of responsiveness or feel like your lawyer is not listening to you, find one who does. A good legal document should be concise, readable, and understandable. Good lawyers are capable of providing such documents.

Just as the sign of a great coach is not based on decibel levels emanating from the bench, the sign of a great lawyer is not how many words he or she speaks per minute. It is the words themselves that make all the difference.