A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Do law firms need to rethink how their lawyers are working?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

By Anthony Bleasdale, Director - Asia Pacific at BigHand

What would you do if I told you that today’s lawyers are focusing too heavily on written communication at the expense of their oral communication – and that this puts at risk their mastery of fundamental lawyering skills and impacts on the efficiency of your law firm?

 Just think about it for a moment. 
 
There has been a significant increase in the amount of time lawyers (and the rest of us) spend composing and responding to emails and typing documents on our computers.   Thoughts are articulated via typing, rather than verbalised via dictation.
 
Making a phone call appears to be a dying art – with many lawyers preferring to text or email their colleagues, opposing counsel or clients, instead of speaking to them on the phone.  We do less face-to-face meetings, believing that electronic communication is a more efficient way of doing business.
 

Lawyers’ dependence on written communication ‘of  real concern’

 
A recent discussion panel, featuring lawyers from leading law firms including Maurice Blackburn, Hunt & Hunt, Norton Rose Fulbright and Carroll O’Dea Lawyers,  identified the growing dependence of lawyers, and particularly young lawyers, on typing to express their ideas in written form as an issue of real concern.
  Theodora Ahilas
“This generation of graduates and younger lawyers verbalise their ideas and thoughts by putting it on the screen - by typing. They are fantastic in print, but when you question them on their documents, in some instances, they fall short of being able to articulate their position. Part of our work is actually having a lot of court appearances, so you have to be able to get up and talk. Judges will throw questions at you, and you have to be able to answer them in a well-thought-out, articulate way.”   Theodora Ahilas, Maurice Blackburn , Principal and Director, Maurice Blackburn (pictured)
 
The way lawyers are working today, with its heavy bias towards written communication, does not support the development of strong oral communication or presentation skills.  

Talking is three times more efficient than typing

Many lawyers will argue that it is more efficient for them to type an email, to articulate their ideas and develop documents by typing them into a computer – and believe that dictation is a relic from the past.  I admit if you’d asked me this three years ago, I would have thought that graduate lawyers would be more efficient at typing!
 
So we tested this assumption, and our results showed that lawyers are three times more efficient when verbalising their ideas rather than typing them.   Lawyers are also more fluid, expressive and persuasive when talking rather than when typing.    

This is a significant result in an industry where time is money. 

Do law firms need to re-think how lawyers are working?

Lawyers have used dictation for many years, however, technology is making us re-think how we are working and the tools we are working with to maximise our productivity and to ensure younger lawyers are developing the oral communication skills they need in court, with client and peers.

So what should you do about this?
 
  1. Investigate the potential efficiency gains for your firm offered by digital dictation, ask an expert to help you understand what more you can gain from your solution

  2. Implement a practice of dictating ideas (rather than typing them up) to help lawyers develop strong verbal communication skills, to be able to articulate their ideas on the fly, be succinct, work from memory – as many more experienced lawyers can attest.|

  3. Develop formal protocols around when to email, when to text, when to call and when to meet colleagues, clients and opposing counsel face-to-face

  4. Create training programs for lawyers to develop of verbal and interpersonal communications

  5. Encourage lawyers to look for opportunities to develop and master their practice their verbal, interpersonal and presentations skills.
 

About our Guest Blogger

Anthony BleasdaleAnthony Bleasdale is the Director- Asia Pacific for BigHand and a past president of ALPMA. With a long history in the legal sector here and overseas, working for a number of leading law firms, and for a range of technology vendors.  He is passionate about driving innovation in law firms through improving firm management, helping develop process optimisation through technology and working with firms to overcome the barriers to achieving their objectives.  

BigHand is the global leader of workflow, document automation, digital dictation and speech recognition software.  BigHand is the Principal Partner for ALPMA’s Leading Your Firm program. Check out their latest ALPMA Member-Only Deal.
Comments
Anonymous commented on 16-Feb-2015 02:52 PM
Very interesting Discussion starter thanks Anthony...

The key is developing understanding about when to use what in the wide range of communication techniques...

There are times when each has its place...

From a productivity point of view lawyers also need to be very aware of when they are moving from drafting on screen into mere typing...very, very, difficult to recover hundreds of dollars an hour for typing...

On the other hand, the potential exists to recover many times a notional hourly rate with good thinking, and good communication by whatever means...

Typing involves very low level thinking for a lawyer...

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