While to an extent, and in exceptional cases, this may be true, the reality of legal practice is that an attorney who does not have listening skills is worse off than an attorney who does not know the law. If you make a list of all the unsuccessful attorneys you know, you will find 99% are poor listeners and only 1% has pure bad luck. Your listening skills control your career more than you would know or like to admit.
Research has proved that under normal conditions, an ordinary listener is able to gather only 25% to 50% of the message being presented before him. This dismal situation occurs because under ordinary circumstances, communication is hampered by both poor listening skills of the listener, as well as poor presentation skills of the speaker. No attorney can expect each client to be an exceptional speaker and capable of getting across his messages clearly, concisely, and effectively.
So, to communicate effectively and win a client's trust, an attorney needs not only to have good listening skills, but also needs to increase his listening skills to a level where it can compensate for poor presentation skills of the client. That takes a lot of doing, and in the jargon of professionals, it is called ''active listening,'' a skill level where the listener proactively gathers message from a poor presenter, and does not fill in the gaps by own ideas, but by cueing and leading the presenter to fill in the gaps.
How to be a proactive listener
To be a good listener, your job is to gather the complete message your client is trying to send you from his/her words, body language, data, knowledge, and experience. You need to make a conscious effort to understand what the client wants to communicate.
Maintaining focus on the client's message and not getting distracted by jumping to conclusions is your foremost job. The next job is to extract the entire message from the client, and to do this you need to acknowledge and send signals that you are paying attention. You can do this by simply nodding your head or by other physical gestures or verbal means. Sometimes, it is a good technique just to repeat an important message-carrying phrase the client has uttered. It cues the client to open up and feel assured that he or she is not talking to a brick wall.
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The final job is to cue the client or ask directly to fill in the gaps you find in the information presented. While you may well be able to guess, and correctly, what would fill in the gaps in information, DO NOT PRESUME AND FILL IN INFORMATION BY YOUR OWN IDEAS. Keep an open mind and if necessary ask the client directly on the points where you feel further information is needed. Gather the entire message, and then present it before your client to seek affirmation on whether you have understood it completely or whether something is still left to be understood. In such an event, the client would affirm and approve or fill in the gaps. If that happens, congratulations, you have just won the trust of a new client.
In short, there are some golden rules for proactive listening: Pay attention; maintain eye contact; do not contradict; watch the body language; acknowledge that you are listening; provide feedback and seek affirmation; DO NOT INTERRUPT; respond professionally.
If you are aware and conscious that it is your job to compensate for a client's poor presentation skills, you have won half the battle. If you practice proactive listening and are able to win your client's trust, you have won the rest half of the battle. For this is the battle you have to win personally. For fighting the case, you will find help available, but for winning the client's trust, you have to rely entirely upon your personal skills. This is why the career success of an attorney becomes dependent upon listening skills, and why proactive listening can let you find and maintain success.