2 Comments Published on October 27th, 2014 by Tonya Pierce
A successful paralegal understands how to communicate professionally. One of a paralegal’s most important tasks is to be the connection between clients, attorneys, witnesses, the court, experts and any other parties that are involved in a case. A paralegal is often the central “hub” for information because the paralegal is the one person who typically communicates with all of these parties. A paralegal must have the ability to communicate effectively in order to ensure that accurate information is given to and received by all parties. As a paralegal, you must be able to communicate with your attorney in in a very specific language that is solely related to the field of law. The paralegal must be able to discuss complex legal issues related to the case with the attorney. On the other hand, a paralegal must use an entirely different set of language skills to communicate with clients and others who may not understand complex legal issues. The paralegal must be able to effectively interpret complex and complicated legal issues to these individuals. Without exceptional communication skills, the risk of miscommunication increases.
Improving Your Communication Skills
You are the liaison for your attorney; therefore, you must have the ability to express your thoughts clearly, precisely and professionally. Regardless of whether you are interviewing a client, preparing a witness for trial, scheduling court hearings or discussing legal research with your attorney, most of your duties as a paralegal will depend greatly on your communication skill. Knowing how to listen to and talk to people is one of the greatest skills that you can possess as a paralegal. While a few people may be born with a natural ability to communicate effectively with others, most of us must work hard to develop these skills. If you find that you are lacking skills in the area of communication, below are some tips that will help you improve your communication skills with your attorney and with others.
1. Practice Active Listening
A large amount of the information you will receive will be through oral communication. It is vital that you understand the instructions from your attorney, statements by witnesses and information from the client. You must have effective listening skills in order to communicate with others. Listening is much more than simply hearing what the other person is saying. You must actively listen to what the speaker is saying while relating the information you are receiving to the purpose of the conversation or the case itself. If you are actively listening to a speaker, you will be able to ask questions about the information you receive, summarize the important points and expand on the concept or idea being presented. Listening is not enough – – you must pay close attention to what is being said so that you can take away the information you need to do your job effectively.
2. Be Clear and Precise
If you are ambiguous, you will be misunderstood. You must use proper grammar and avoid slang and colloquialisms. When you are discussing a case, you should be using professional communication rather than conversational communication. You are not discussing which movie to see or which restaurant to eat dinner at that evening. You should stay on topic, avoid generalizations and speak in complete thoughts rather than assuming the other person will know what you mean.
3. Ask Questions
You must understand the topic and the information in order to have effective communication. Therefore, it is important that you ask questions to clarify the information or instructions you are being given. Avoid asking questions that have a “yes” or “no” response as these types of questions do not elicit more information nor do they move the conversation forward. For example, instead of asking “Do you need me to research that question” try asking, “What legal issues do you want to address in this case?” The second question promotes a more detailed response that results in more information for you to use as you perform your legal research. (NOTE: Attorneys will assume that a paralegal knows something – avoid problems by asking specific questions to ensure you understand exactly what the attorney needs or wants.)
4. Do Not Overwhelm The Other Person
Throwing too much information at someone will result in misunderstandings. When you have a lot of information to cover, it is better to have an outline of the topics you want to discuss and schedule a meeting rather than catch a person off guard. It is difficult to process detailed information if you are on your way to the restroom or you are in the middle of preparing a detailed brief. It is much better to schedule a meeting, prepare an outline and take your time to communicate all of the information you have in a clear, concise manner when the person you are speaking to is not otherwise engaged and he or she can listen to you and process the information you are providing. (NOTE: Most attorneys hate being “hit” as they are coming in the door. Allow your attorney to get into his or her office and take a moment to acclimate before you jump into a complex discussion.)
5. Take a Communications Course
If you feel that you need help to develop your communication skills, take an online class or a class at your local college. You may also find an information CLE course designed to help improve communication skills. Because a large portion of your job will involve oral and written communication, building these skills is an investment in your career.
Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).