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September 2008

Sep 30, 2008


Communication Skills

Question:

We are a 17 attorney IP firm in the Southwest and I am the managing partner. We are having a lot of problems with poor attitude in the office, inadequate production, employee turnover, and we have recently lost a few key institutional clients. I believe that the core of our problem may be poor communication skills on the part of our attorneys? What recommendations do you have?

Response:

Poor interpersonal communications is often the root cause of many of the management problems that arise in law firms. Here are a few ideas for improving interpersonal communication skills:

  1. Develop a series – a repertoire – of oral communications styles as well as languages to use in various situations with clients, colleagues, and employees.
  2. Understand and manage your clients expectations – (1) clients true objectives for the engagement, (2) the boundaries of your role, (3) kind of information you will use, (4) your role in the engagement and the role of your staff, (5) the product/service you will deliver, (6) what support and involvement you will need from the client, (7) time schedule, and (8) frequency and form of communication.
  3. Employ effective listening techniques with your clients – (1) client face-to-face engagement debriefings, (2) client satisfaction interviews – third party, (3) client site visits, (4) opinion surveys, (5) feedback questionnaires, and (6) client panels/focus groups.
  4. Employ effective office communications systems to faciliate communications with your employees – (1) weekly/monthly staff meetings with agendas and minutes, (2) satisfaction surveys, (3) daily meeting with your assistant, (4) performance reviews tied to a performance management approach.
  5. Match communications complexity to appropriate communications vehicles (face-to-face, telephone, e-mail, memo, letter, voice mail, etc.) Example: Use face-to-face to counsel or critique employees – not e-mail.
  6. Reduce communications noise – (1) setup MS Outlook not to automatically download e-mail, (2) put cell phones on silent, (3) develop cell phone protocols, and (4) use voice mail effectively.
  7. Incorporate the six client service principles into your daily behavior – (1) feel good about yourself, (2) practice habits of courtesy, (3) use positive communication, (4) listen and ask questions, (5) perform professionally, and (6) under promise and overdeliver.
  8. Develop written job descriptions and office policy and procedural manuals.

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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