Kiser* summarised in a comprehensive review
of lawyer client studies that clients rate ‘Attentive Listening Skills’ as a
top competency. ‘Ongoing Communication’ ranked highly too. Conversely lawyers
ranked ‘Legal Expertise’, ‘Honouring Client Confidentiality’ and ‘Punctuality’
the most important.
Lawyers don’t rate listening
‘Listening Skills’ were ranked all the way
down at 11 by lawyers, with ‘Ongoing Communication’ even further down the list.
Can superior legal expertise on
its own make you stand out?
How often does your client need
that superior level of knowledge?
How often will an average level
of legal knowledge be enough to conduct a transaction successfully?
· What will make a client say you
are a great lawyer and recommend you?
If you look at the feedback you and your
colleagues receive, do they talk about your technical superiority in your field
or is the majority of feedback around really understanding what they need,
being responsive and keeping them updated along the way (so they felt safe and
These are not technical skills, these are
interpersonal skills! But as Kiser’s and others’ research shows, lawyers
underestimate these aspects at their peril.
Lawyers overestimate their interpersonal skills
A successful career for a lawyer requires
you to not only provide great services to clients, you will need to be good at
business development, get on well with colleagues, develop your team members
and navigate the political landscape of the firm you are part of.
When interpersonal skills are so important
for a successful lawyer career, it is unfortunate that the core training and
competencies taught rarely include how to interact and have quality
conversations with clients and colleagues.
The problem can be further exacerbated by
something called the Dunning-Kruger effect. This refers to our propensity to inaccurately
estimate our own skill levels. Non-experts tend to over-estimate their own
abilities while experts under-estimate theirs. A real expert tends to think
that there is so much more still to learn about their subject, so they go on an
eternal quest to improve their technical specialist skills.
The expert lawyer therefore may not
recognise that their legal knowledge and skills are sufficient already for
their role, so other aspects should be their focus, such as their interpersonal
skills (where they may in fact have over-inflated opinions about their own
This creates a perfect storm where not only
do lawyers not recognise the importance to their clients of listening and
interpersonal skills but they also overestimate their own abilities in these
Interpersonal skills for lawyers
The good news is that we are increasingly training
lawyers and other professional experts, such as accountants, financial advisers
and consultants, in interpersonal skills and the art of coaching and mentoring.
The purpose might be to become a better manager and being able to develop team
However, increasingly we help lawyers
develop their interpersonal skills in order to have better quality
conversations with their clients. Through developing their listening and questioning
skills they understand their clients’ needs better, improve their legal advice
while at the same time establish a stronger rapport and build long-term client
The feedback we get is that clients’ reactions
are overwhelmingly positive, reinforcing the benefits of developing new
listening and communication skills. Clients feel that the advice they receive
is more personal to their situation and that they have been fully listened to
and understood. Exactly the areas they rate highly.
See more about our Interpersonal
Skills for Lawyers course (www.quivermanagement.com/client-interpersonal-skills-lawyers)
or the 1-day course we are running for the Law Society called Effective
Communication with Colleagues and clients (shop.quivermanagement.com/collections/effective-communication-with-colleagues-and-clients). You are also welcome to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Kiser, R (2017): Soft Skills for the
Effective Lawyer: Cambridge University Press