In this article, the author explains how lawyers can improve their communication with clients
The following article deals with the topic of telephone call management for lawyers. Because of an increasing amount of indirect communication – other than through face to face contact – telephone calls are of a higher relevance for the legal sector than before. Also, characteristics of calls between lawyers and their clients have changed through the latest telecommunication technology.
The article addresses various issues that have to be considered when making a phone call with a client, in order to make the call as effective as possible. Important aspects are for example finding the right moment to make the call – thus, the timing – as well as the duration of it. Also, it is crucial to lead the conversation and to avoid detours in order to transmit the intended message. Setting a goal outline prior to the call, summing up the said with some final conclusions at the end of each phone call, or giving prior warnings when a call might be interrupted unexpectedly before it comes to an end, are other aspects that might be relevant in the lawyer-client interaction via telephone.
Some more aspects that are mentioned concern the recording of calls, or the influence of the voice and prosody of the caller on the content of the spoken content. All of these issues are explained in detail throughout the article, giving an idea of how to effectively hold a conversation with clients over the phone as a professional working in the law field. At the end, some conclusions are provided, summing up the most relevant ideas.
As more and more communication happens via other means than personal contact, professionals of the legal sector have an increased number of telephone calls with their clients. Thus, it is of growing importance to bear in mind some aspects in order to guarantee positive lawyer-client communication on the phone. In order to communicate effectively, some relevant aspects to consider when holding a phone call with a client as a lawyer include, amongst others, ideal timing and duration of the call, the voice and prosody of the speaker, setting a goal for the call and summing up the communicated at the end.
Telephone call management for today's lawyer
It´s important to be smart and think a head of the needs of the client to communicate with us. If we establish a given protocol, considering the characteristics of the client and his matters, we will improve our service and image vis a vis of him, and at the same time we will save time and boost efficiency.
Communication via telephone has more and more prominence in the professional sector and especially in the legal profession. Since the progressive implementation of the use of mobile telephones, we don´t call places, we call people. This new direct contact channel with the sought interlocutor has made telephone communications that already have a prominent role, to become the first means of communication between the lawyer and his client. In addition, the new telephone scenario allows the lawyer to have direct contact with the client and vice versa, without the intermediation of the traditional secretariat service, which often served to manage telephone communications.
A big part of a lawyer´s workload consists of communicating to retrieve information or to explain strategies on how to act and achieve the goals that the client is looking for.
If we are able to efficiently manage telephone communications, this translates into the effective execution of the legal matter that lies therein.
2.1. TIME. Most lawyers, when faced with a telephone call, whether they are speakers or listeners, don´t plan on how much time they will devote to it.
Every lawyer tries to measure the time they will spend eating, traveling, writing a document, defending an argument in court, etc., but never consider the time they will spend on a call. This lack of attention and anticipation produces that most of the telephone calls that lawyers have, last more than necessary.
The goal in communication, in what refers to transmitting a message, frequently is lost or minimized in unnecessarily long conversations. The more a conversation lasts, the more the message is lost, for example, if someone says that we need to explain in 5 minutes how to cook a Paella (Spanish cuisine) we will carefully choose our language, to be precise when transmitting the recipe. On the contrary, if they give us 25 minutes to explain the same recipe, the listener will have to pay attention during those 25 minutes for the most essential information that will translate into those 5 minutes, therefore, in those 25 minutes, the message can be unclear.
2.2. MOMENT. The other aspect that lacks in telephone calls is not considering the right moment to make the call, it´s very frequent that the lawyer calls his client when he is available and does not think if that time is good for its client to take the call. Unless it´s an urgent call, it´s important to know what time it would be best for the client, empathizing with him and putting ourselves in his place. If we call at an inconvenient time for our client, our message will not be received correctly and communication can be difficult. Around 70% of calls a day are directed to people that we know, thus, it´s fundamental to consider this acquaintance and know when it´s the best time to call.
2.3. LEADING THE CONVERSATION. It´s important to know how to manage the lead in telephone calls. If the call has the objective to transmit orders or messages that do not require more answers than the acknowledgment of the listener, it´s necessary for the speaker to use almost all the time of the phone call. In these cases, the effectiveness is in balancing the time between the speaker and listener. It´s frequent that this rule is overlooked for professional telephone calls because it can frustrate one of the people involved, who finally will renounce to part or everything he wanted to convey. It´s clear that this lack of control and preparation on professional telephone calls makes the lawyer lose time and efficiency in managing his professional matters.
Preparing the call is essential, in order to know what the goal in our telephone call is. If we are clear with what we want to say, then we can start to work on our words to achieve that objective. These are some examples:
3.1 CLASSIFYING THE CALL. Let us imagine that the goal in our call is to clearly know what Mr. A explained to Mr. B (the receiver of our call) in a lunch with relation to an investment. After the morning greetings with Mr. B, we need to try to start leading the conversation towards our goal, once Mr. B has listened to our words, he can answer precisely to our question. For example, Mr. B, do you remember the food that you had with Mr. A in the French restaurant? The one which is in front of the Parliament, after the accountings conference in which you spoke. Did you talk during that lunch with Mr. A about the matter of…? Let us ask the question once we have given most of the information so that the receiver can answer faster and more accurately.
3.2 AVOIDING DETOURS. Avoid unwanted detours in conversations. If we are talking about a bankruptcy trial, and the client interrupts the conversation with phrases like “By the way, the solicitor that was a patient…”, the phrase “By the way” normally lets you know that there is going to be a change of direction in the conversation which would stop us from reaching our goal with efficiency. To avoid the “By the way” or another phrase that announces the change of direction in the conversation, we can answer with phrases like “Interesting, we can address that later, but following with what you were talking about” and we stop the conversation, getting it again back on track.
3.3. FINAL CONCLUSIONS. If the conversation is out of our control, it´s too long and disorganized, it´s good that before stopping the call we make a brief summary of the important points like “we have determined as conditions a, b, c”. This conclusion will allow us to highlight the goal of the conversation that many times are left aside due to the lack of precision in unnecessarily long conversations. With these conclusions, we will avoid any misunderstandings and we can give more precision to our communications.
3.4. GOAL OUTLINE. The exactness of our call will increase extraordinarily if we prepare a brief outline with what we want to say and a roadmap of the conversation beforehand. We need to think that 70% of the calls in which the speaker experiences “detours” regarding the content of the communication, a separation of the set goal takes place. The outline will make it easier to reach the objectives of our call.
3.5. VALUE YOUR TIME. If we talk with precision in our calls, our receivers will value our person more than our time. The briefness in phone calls does not quarrel with our sympathy or politeness. The best way to value our time and the time of our receiver is to not occupy him unnecessarily.
3.6. PRIOR WARNINGS. One efficient approach to assuring the briefness of the call is to warn the receiver at the start of the conversation that it will be interrupted shortly thereafter due to a pressing matter. For example, “Hello Maria, I’m calling you quickly to let you know about the project A, I will hang up at any moment because I’m about to start a meeting, being in court, etc. This introduction will allow us to finish the conversation at the moment that we consider precisely, without being taken as rude or unpolite.
3.7. 10 MINUTES. A telephone call, unless it´s expected and planned, is recommended not to exceed 10 minutes. Passed this time period, the topics are repeated, and the information given is diluted within the wording.
3.8. RECORDING. The telephone calls are no longer safe like a few years ago. We have to acknowledge that nowadays any telephone can record calls easily. What we say via the telephone stays most of the time recorded. This reality needs to be considered in telephone calls. Privacy is a matter to pay attention to when making calls.
3.9. PROSODY. When a person talks with others personally, other conversational elements are almost as important as the voice itself. The gestures and body movements in general are important as well. When we face a telephone call we only have our voice and prosody, meaning the intonation, the use of pauses and rhythmic patterns in the conversation. It´s important to be aware of this limitation to get the best out of our voice and prosody.
It´s proven that our voice pitch is modified when we gesture, that is why it´s is convenient that when we talk via telephone, we do it as if we were talking to the person's face to face, modifying our voice pitch, managing the silences, emphasizing when necessary, and all that without censuring our gestures. When we move our hands or our eyebrows, our voice changes and helps to give more emphasis to our message.
3.10. MOMENT TO CALL. Any communication always requires a speaker and a listener. Before making a call, the speaker must take into account if it is a good moment for the listener. To determine the suitability of the moment we must consider two factors. The content of the message that we want to transmit and the knowledge that the speaker has about the listener´s routines. Telephone calls must be made at convenient hours for the listener. If we know that our client eats at 3 pm, we wouldn’t call him at that time just because we are available and want to get it over with. When making a call in an inopportune time for the listener, he will tend to value the message less and to consider the speaker disorganized and even unpolite. However, if the content of the message that we want to give is urgent and important, then the right time would be anytime, and we do not have to worry about the routines of the client.
In professional communications, if there is a moment in which the secretariat’s assistance is missed the most, that´s when we receive a call. It´s easier to manage a call when we dial personally than when we receive a call. As mentioned before, in the past we used to call places to talk to people but now we call them directly. With this new situation we don´t have the possibility that a third party manages our communication in our interest (secretary). Before answering a call, it´s necessary to reflect quickly about the speaker and to think if it is necessary or if we are interested to talk to that person in that moment. Unless the answer is yes, if we do not have anything to do, the best is not to answer because it´s always better that we choose the moment in which we want to talk. Even though this is evident, that last affirmation is opposite to the correct way of paying attention to the client from the lawyer´s or any other professional´s perspective.
The latest telephone models give a lot of information to the person making the call about the reasons why he is not receiving an answer. The telephone lets the speaker know if the listener did not want to receive his call, if he is busy, and even if he is available later, it lets the receiver know when the speaker is calling him. In conclusion, every time it is more and more complicated to answer a call. Likewise, nowadays if we do not answer a call, in most of cases the speaker concludes that we did not have time for him, which is why it´s better if in the professional field we are the ones making the call instead of the client. It is important to be smart and think ahead the needs of the client to communicate with us, because if we establish a protocol, considering the characteristics of the client and his matter, we will improve our service and our image, and at the same time we will save time and boost efficiency.
We cannot forget that when a client calls a lawyer, unless it´s to communicate the latest news (less than 10% of the matters to call), it´s because he did not understand previous explanations of the lawyer, or because he has the feeling that he is not fully informed about a specific matter. In the professional communications realm, it must be the professional, in our case the lawyer, who leads the conversation. We can affirm that when a lawyer receives many calls from his clients’ it´s because he has a problem of strategic communication. Someone could say the opposite, in order for a lawyer to be commercial; he needs to have patience and long telephone calls with the clients. This theory initially can have positive effects (the lawyer shifts into some sort of friend for the client), but on the long run gets confusing. The client forgets that the lawyer is a professional and that when he speaks to him he is actually working. This confusion makes the lawyer loose respect for his time and work. All this not to mention that in some cases the client can really become a friend of the lawyer, and that when this happens, which is frequent, we are already moving into another field that is not within the scope of this article.
Given the difficulty of managing telephone calls through the mobile phone in the professional field, we can try to redirect calls to the landline, and have the help of a secretary to rationally manage the communications. This can only be done in part, because sooner or later, the client will call us again on our mobile phone number, and if we do not answer it could mean that we do not have a mobile phone. He could think, in some cases, that we are outdated, which can be worse than the consideration that we believe that he is not worthy of having that kind of communication with us. The day in which we give our mobile phone number to a client, there is no coming back, as he will probably forget about the landline for good.
If we want it or not, we are expected to manage part of our professional communications through the mobile phone, and because of that, it´s convenient to think which is the best way to do it.