Can you hear me now? 5 Tips for Effective Client Communication

"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place."  George Bernard Shaw

Those legal professionals who are effective in client communications are those who stop, for just a moment, to reflect upon who their clients are, the client's personal make up and whether they are in the legal field familiar with legal terminology. To be effective is knowing that both the receiver and the communicator’s interests and backgrounds are considered.  That means a good communicator has listened to his receiver.

Clients always prefer appropriate language that meets their level of understanding and expectations while avoiding ambiguous and complex words, technical jargon and the sometimes easily adaptable “art” of a full explanation but condescending attitude. No one I know thinks that they communicate unclearly and without direction.  You write and speak in a manner that you understand is correct.  In a sense, it's like describing chocolate.  Until you've tasted the real thing, it's impossible to describe.

Communications are generally ineffective when the legal professional neglects to take in all aspects other than written or oral.  Let’s not overlook body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, phrasing, choice of words, level of understanding of the legal process, cultural differences and feedback.

Suggestions for improvements

There are five top areas for client communication that I like because they are beyond the “same-old same-old”: (I refer here to communication between you and the client, obviously not when speaking for the client.)

1. Let clients speak for themselves.  Clients need to know that their input is important to you. They need acknowledgement that they have been heard.

2.  Try to take a no-blame approach. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge mistakes.  Challenge what happened rather than ‘who did it’. Acknowledge things could be different in the future and that something can be learned from mistakes. Persistent refusal to acknowledge mistakes because they would be seen as 'failure' has been the cause of many repeated mistakes rather than learning and changing.  You want to retain clients, not push them away through lecturing.

3.  Show respect.  Come out of every conversation with dignity for yourself and your client.

4.  Don't volunteer others. Speak only for yourself. It’s too dangerous and you are too vulnerable otherwise. Use of “everyone”, “anyone” and “someone” should be avoided at all costs. Use the phrase 'Here's what I think', or 'I do think’ instead of statements of command, as many politicians tend to practice.   

5.    Use every opportunity for learning, connection and insight. Each conversation should be a learning experience for you. Clients should come away feeling that while they may or may not like what they heard, they trust you.

Communicating via email or the old-fashioned letter in the U.S. mail 

Have you asked your clients their preferred way to communicate?  Good communication is not about what you want.  It’s about whether receivers accept how you say things (whether or not they agree). The younger generation wouldn’t think there is any other method of communication other than email while many over a “certain age” prefer written letters, messengers, FedEx packages and paper faxes. Don’t make an assumption or error on the side of saving fees if, in the end, it will cost you the client. The more you meet the client’s mindset, the more loyalty you’ll have, particularly in this age of 15 minute client steadfastness.

Rating legal professionals vs. other professions on effective client communication 

It is ironic, is it not, that given lawyers pride themselves as excellent wordsmiths that most client complaints and costs disputes are “communication misunderstandings” rather than technical incompetence?  I wouldn’t profile any particular profession by putting poor communication skills into any one job category.  Unfortunately, it’s pervasive throughout white collar, blue collar and any collar you choose.

The last word

Find out how your body language and voice add to or subtract from first impressions and your presence.  In the world of “selfies”, take a picture of yourself in a conversation, have someone else critique your written communication and video-tape yourself communicating and posturing with others.  You’re bound to be surprised. I guarantee it.

Learn which words or phrases can rob you of power.  For example, the use of “as you may know” can bust up even the very best client relationship.  The client may not know, may feel out of the loop, may get paranoid or even get angry with you for not communicating what he should have known earlier.  It’s simply a very risky phrase.

Client communication is not easy. The road to successful communication starts with knowing the challenges ahead.  Understand the first principle of on-the-job communication: It's a process that needs lifelong practice.

5 Good Reasons Public Speaking May Not Be Working For You

Public speakerAccording to public polls, the number of people suffering from a fear of public speaking
trumps fear of death.  This has always been hard for me to understand as I have always enjoyed the experience – public speaking that is, not death.

In this day and age when getting heard is so important, public speaking has become a critical tool in moving your paralegal or legal career forward.  So, what is this fear, exactly, and why is it so paralyzing? The truth is, we’re not really afraid of speaking in public.  We’re terrified of being humiliated.

It’s a subtle distinction, but a very important one. What can you do if you’re afraid of public speaking except avoid the whole mess by simply not participating?  If you acknowledge that the source of the dread is humiliation and not terror of saying what you think or know, you’ll actually stand a chance of overcoming the fear.

Don’t say, “I’m afraid of speaking in public”. Start saying, “I’m afraid of being humiliated.” You’ll immediately feel better. If you take a look at the times that you have actually felt publically humiliated while speaking, you’ll probably realize that those times are next to none.  One of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt may help derail your negativity:  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Let’s look at contributors to public speaking panic and the paralyzing idea that you will never be able to face your colleagues again.

1.  Some kind of public humiliation has happened to us at least once in our lives.  Somewhere along the line, something we did caused an adult to criticize, cut us down or punish us for something that we thought was perfectly ok to do.  We’re surprised by the reaction to our actions.  Somewhere in our lives, our peers were brought to tears of laughter over something that we did that never occurred to us as funny.  We feel shame.

2.  We’re so self-focused that we concentrate on getting approvalfrom our audience rather than giving them a good experience. We have an inexplicable need to be perfect, no matter what.  We’re too concentrated on audience approval rather than filling the role of teacher – what a good speaker really is.  

3.  We refuse to adequately prepare. We don’t know our material, we haven’t rehearsed it and we think by winging or improvising it, we are better speakers.   When in front of the audience, we forget what we’re supposed to say, lose track of what we’ve already said or fumble trying to recall what comes next. We then suffer from deep embarrassment.

4.  We’re not so sure what we’re saying has value. We under-deliver or over-deliver in a frantic attempt to overcome our insecurity. We stand there wishing to God that we were anywhere else but in front of this audience today, or any day, for that matter.

5.  We’re too busy comparing ourselves to someone else: the speaker who came before us, the speaker coming after us, a public figure, mentor, colleague.  We make up a derogatory self-rating system and decide we could do better but unfortunately, damage has already been done - there are no “do-overs”. 

I remember once years ago being a guest speaker for the Toledo Bar Association.  I can’t remember what the topic was.  But I do remember that midway through the talk, I had this uneasy feeling that there was something amiss behind me.  And by behind me, I meant my behind.  My gray wool designer pin-striped silk-lined suit skirt seemed to be rustling.  Rustling?  This sure was distracting. I had a feeling that I better not turn around. 

Standing at the podium, I reached around with my left hand to feel my backside.  I tried to do it kind of casually to see if I could feel what was going on.  OMG.  I could feel my underwear.  My underwear????  I kept talking and kept feeling my skirt.  Oh, Lord.  It felt like my hem had somehow gotten stuck in my zipper.  I tried unsuccessfully to pull the hem out of the zipper and to keep talking like nothing was going on back there. No success.  I began to sweat.  My recently acquired pure silk white Ann Taylor blouse I bought on year-end sale began to show tiny spots of beige foundation as perfectly formed round beads of perspiration rolled off my face and onto the collar.  I didn’t know what to do. I figured I’d better excuse myself and go fix the problem.  Even though we weren’t scheduled for one, I told the audience they were in luck!  We would be taking a five minute break.  I then walked backwards off the stage and directly into the restroom pushing the door open with my backside. 

In the Ladies Room, I found that indeed, my hem was stuck into the zipper all the way up to my waistband.  The problem was, despite my efforts, I could not get it unstuck. I couldn’t even get the skirt off or twist it so the back of the skirt was in the front and the front of the skirt in the back.  The dang hem would not come out of the zipper. The minutes were ticking down.  The audience was waiting.  Ten minutes passed. Nothing.  Fifteen minutes. Finally, in a desperate attempt to get back on stage, I ripped the hem out causing the zipper to rip wide open.  I looked at myself in the mirror.  Uh-oh. Now, I rationalized, was not the time to panic.  Oh, no.  Panic was not going to work here. 

Law firm training and being around anxious attorneys prepares you for the unexpected.  So, I did the only thing I could sensibly think of:  I yanked my blouse out of my skirt, pulled it over the broken zipper, took the jacket off and tied the sleeves around my waist.  Being a bit chubby, the sleeves barely went around my waist.  I didn’t care.  I went back on stage as if nothing happened. 

As I walked confidently back onto the stage, head up, shoulders back, the jacket fell off falling directly in front of me.   I tripped over it and went straight down on my knees.  It was just one of those days.  The audience laughed. Oh, man, I thought.  This just may be a career buster.  I consoled myself by thinking, “Well, if nothing else, Toledo got its money’s worth.”  I got up, took a bow, and acted as though it were all part of the show.  To this day, I have no idea whether people were just too polite to say anything negative or everyone in Toledo knows a) I’m good in a crisis or b) Chere Estrin wears plain, old-fashioned pink cotton underwear.  

In the next post, we’ll talk about 5 ways to overcome the fear of humiliation when speaking in public.      


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10 Unknown Google Tips

31653ckv7e9sfy7[1] Someone sent me the following list of neat Google tricks.  I wish I could give credit to the writer, so forgive me about that. If anyone knows, let me know. However, here are new ways to use Google that we all can use:

1.         Definitions
Pull up the definition of the word by typing define followed by the word you want the definition for. For example, typing: define bravura would display the definition of that word.

2.         Local search
Visit Google Local enter the area you want to search and the keyword of the place you want to find. For example, typing: restaurant at the above link would display local restaurants.

3.         Phone number lookup
Enter a full phone number with area code to display the name and address associated with that phone number.

4.         Find weather and movies
Type "weather" or "movies" followed by a zip code or city and state to display current weather conditions or movie theaters in your area. For example, typing weather 84101 gives you the current weather conditions for Salt Lake City, UT and the next four days. Typing movies 84101 would give you a link for show times for movies in that area.

5.         Track airline flight
Enter the airline and flight number to display the status of an airline flight and it's arrival time. For example, type: delta 123 to display this flight information if available.

6.         Track packages
Enter a UPS, FedEx or USPS tracking number to get a direct link to track your packages.

7.          Pages linked to you
See what other web pages are linking to your website or blog by typing link: followed by your URL. For example, typing link: displays all pages linking to Computer Hope.

8.         Find PDF results only
Add filetype: to your search to display results that only match a certain file type. For example, if you wanted to display PDF results only type: "dell xps" filetype:pdf -- this is a great way to find online manuals.

9.         Calculator
Use the Google Search engine as a calculator by typing a math problem in the search. For example, typing: 100 + 200 would display results as 300.

10.        Stocks
Quickly get to a stock quote price, chart, and related links by typing the stock symbol in Google. For example, typing: msft will display the stock information for Microsoft.


"Deleting embarrassing e-mails isn't easy, experts say"

So, you think those embarrassing emails sent to the computer's trash can are truly deleted, right? Uh, no:

"If Karl Rove or other White House staffers tried to delete sensitive e-mails from their computers, experts said, investigators usually could recover all or most of them.

"The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating whether the White House or the Republican National Committee erased 'a large volume of e-mails' that may be related to the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.


"Deleting a document or e-mail doesn't remove the file from a computer's hard drive or a backup server. The only thing that's erased is the address - known as a 'pointer' - indicating where the file is stored.

"It's like 'removing an index card in a library,' said Robert Guinaugh, a senior partner at CyberControls LLC, a data forensic-support company in Barrington, Ill. 'You take the card out, but the book is still on the shelf.'"

"Ten Must-Have Apps for the Solo Practitioner"

More helpful info from Rick Georges, author of the FutureLawyer blog [links below from original post]:

"This month I'm focusing on application software. Although there are different software preferences for every lawyer, I'm sticking to Windows, since most lawyers use it. As with last month's article, 'Ten Must-Have Web Sites for Solo Practitioners,' picking the best of anything is difficult, so I'll focus on what I use every day in my practice. I'm sure I'll hear from you about software you use, that I missed.


"As with last month's article [Ten Must-Have Web Sites for Solo Practitioners], there are many other software applications that I could have mentioned, as I'm certain that there are a few that you might suggest. However, I use every application in this column at least once each day of my life, and my law practice would be lost without them. If you have an essential application that is important to your law practice, send me an e-mail and let me know. Now, go out and use computer software to improve your life and your law practice."

Definitely liked the inside scoop of how this lawyer daily uses technology. What would your list of "top apps" look like? Is your own Treo "NEVER far from [your] cold hands"?

"Five Things You Should Know About Fighting Spam"

Sadly, this scenario sounds all too familiar! But there's a good reason:

"When you started your e-mail client this morning, you were prepared for the usual set of correspondence: your daily dose of corporate politics, a dollop of technical emergencies and the background hum of projects under way. Annoyingly, your inbox also contained a few messages advertising products you would never buy, and perhaps a phishing notice warning that your account was frozen at a financial institution where you don't have an account. Your company has antispam measures in place; surely, the IT staff should be able to keep this junk out of your inbox?

"Perhaps they can, but the task of doing so has become much more difficult in recent years, partly because 85 percent or more of all e-mail traffic today is spam.


"The primary directive, for e-mail admins, is 'lose no mail.' If that means that an occasional spam message wends its merry way into users' mailboxes, so be it. E-mail administrators would prefer that users encounter a few annoyances than miss an important business message."

Also, remember that "People are Making Money on Spam," so there may always be strong incentives for spam senders to fight against spam blockers. Who knows, you might want some of that uninvited email....

"Paralegals and Smartphones"

I'm not saying you should buy a smartphone, but the Indiana Paralegal Association rightly points out the value of quick email replies:

"I am willing to go out on a limb with this one, but I have come to the conclusion that smartphones are quickly becoming a requirement for paralegals. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world of invisible fences and constant communication (as one of my collegues constantly reminds me). Several weeks ago, I finally broke down and purchased the Samsung Blackjack smart phone (I highly recommend this phone to anyone interested in a slim smart phone)."

"RIM announces Blackberry 8800"

Yay! It's way past time to get a new Blackberry, isn't it?

"Research in Motion (RIM) today announced a new Blackberry smartphone. The new 8800 merges the form factor of the traditional Blackberry with the piano-black design of the 8100. The new phone comes with integrated GPS and a n illuminated 'Pearl' trackball.

"Other than the original 8100 Pearl, the 8800 tries to appeal to traditional Blackberry customers with a security-focused, but enhanced feature set. As the original Blackberry devices, the 8800 is wider than the 8100 and offers a full QWERTY keyboard."

Oh yeah, it's stylish!

"27 Tips for Teleconferencing"

Wow, this is a remarkably smart list! Stuff I hadn't even thought about. (Links below are from the original post.):

"Whether you call them conference calls or telecons or excruciatingly dull time-wasters, multi-participant phone conversations are as important to most web workers [& paralegals] as email. If you can’t meet face to face or arrange video conferencing, the conference call is the next best thing. But just as with email and instant messaging, people don’t always agree on how to use them as effectively as possible as a tool for collaboration.

"Try these tips for your next telecon whether you’re the leader of the call or just a participant."

BTW, you can find more info about Web Worker Daily here...

"Are BlackBerry users the new smokers?"

Well, people do seem addicted to these devices (cell phones too). What do you think?

"I have a new policy with my friends. I will not meet them in a restaurant or bar - holiday cheer notwithstanding - unless they promise to switch off their cellphones and BlackBerrys.

"It's embarrassing to impose such sanctions. It seems discourteous. Yet I feel like I have to speak up. The idea of a ban came to me after dining with an old college friend. I was confiding something, when it dawned on me that he wasn't even listening. He was staring down at his lap, instead.

"'What are you doing?' I asked, feeling dismayed.

"'I'm sending you an e-mail,' he muttered.


"What is the behavioral equivalent of this socially sanctioned and business-approved use of gadgetry? It's like having a dinner party guest pull out her crime thriller to read while she slurps up your pasta. It's like a man striding 10 feet ahead of his lady companion when they're out for a stroll, or someone firing up a cigarette in an elevator."

The annoyance & rudeness aside, can this in-your-face technology be healthy?