On Your Own: Talk Less, Smile More

talk less
Athletes in Law Special Issue

My cousin Franky once sagely told me, “you got two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak.” I offer examples where lawyers should consider zipping it.

1. Clients.

Never lie. Lying to anyone as a lawyer is a cardinal sin, except during negotiations where a communal understanding exists that we all flirt with lying while parsing our words carefully.

You’ve just started your own firm and you’re waiting patiently for the phone to ring. It does! It’s a good case in an area where you have experience, but the potential client is asking for answers to complicated questions on the spot.

First, it’s okay not to know the answer. Experienced lawyers do not have every answer. The permutations of legal issues are virtually endless. Second, do not make up an answer. Clients remember when you give them incorrect information. It erodes confidence. Third, ask the critical questions to analyze the issue, and listen. Finally, shut up. Don’t continue to talk aloud about how little you know. If it is ethically within your capabilities, nod confidently, express that you’re the right person but the problem warrants consideration, and you will present the best possible solution.

2. Court.

You’re at oral argument. You’re crushing the other side. Opposing counsel said one absurd thing after another, and the judge knows it. Your rebuttal is forthcoming. This is your Clarence Darrow moment!

No, this is where lawyers often err. They overreach. They trigger a question that shifts the judge’s thinking. If you have something critical to say, make it brief. But consider, “nothing further, Your Honor.” I’ve watched great lawyers say nothing.

3. Social Media.

You’re a private practice lawyer. But you should have personal beliefs. My heroic notion of lawyers are people who fight for causes. This job is too challenging not to care about what you do. So, I’m not telling you not to advertise your personal beliefs, but…

Ask yourself whether you’re just venting, instead of being productive and persuasive. Consider whether you’re needlessly alienating potential clients or referral sources when you’re jabbing at [insert name]. Would that time be better spent working on a campaign?

This is a stressful and taxing job. Many of us deal with mental health challenges. Is it a good idea to vent about your struggles in a spontaneous post? While it’s heroic to talk publicly about these challenges to help eradicate unfair stigmas, it’s unrealistic to expect referrals from colleagues when your midnight posts make your audience wonder if you’re in the throes of a crisis. During those times, consider reaching out to trusted confidants, rather than hundreds of potential referral sources. Jeff Storms

Jeff Storms

Jeff Storms is a partner at Newmark Storms Dworak LLC. He has a diverse litigation practice with an emphasis on plaintiff’s civil rights and sexual abuse litigation. Jeff is a perennial Super Lawyer and has twice been named an “Attorney of the Year” by Minnesota Lawyer.

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