Lisa M. Lloyd
Professor Gloria Reeves
May 24, 2014 To communicate instructions from a supervising attorney, statements of a witness, or the description of a legal problem, a paralegal must be a precise and clear oral communicator, as well as, an active and effective listener. Interacting with others is what a paralegal do most and their communication skills can impact their career greatly (Armatys, 2012). According to WordNet 3.0, “oral communication (n) means communication by word of mouth.” Good oral communication skills are developed by improving three areas. First, your subject must be known. Imparting information is a means for oral communication. Sometimes, when the lawyer is unavailable, the client and paralegal utilize communication to proceed in a continued, orderly and timely fashion—allowing the client to be kept well-informed (Greene & Cannon, 2003). This, in turn, gives the client a feeling of confidence that the case is handled properly and is proceeding well. When providing information to a client, that client expects the information to be correct. If incorrect information is given, there could be certain consequences, unfavorable, for the client (Schneider, 2006). For an example, if you tell the client their court appearance is at 1:30 p.m. when it is really at 10:30 a.m., you may have damaged your client’s case by not knowing your subject as well as the law firm’s relationship with that client. When interviewing witnesses, a paralegal must know how to keep an interview on track and what appropriate questions to ask in order to gather the important information necessary for their client’s case (Armatys, 2012). Second, precise and clear communication is a must. Misunderstood communication risks being unclear and inexact. If a paralegal is unsure their client understood the information provided, the paralegal should ask the client to repeat or communicate back to them the information they were told to make sure the message was received effectively (Bell, 2014). In her book Law Office Skills, Edwards (2002) says the following about effective communication: Effective communication skills mean increased power. Those who can clearly, efficiently, and effectively articulate ideas to others and who can persuasively present their position are more likely to convince others to adopt their position…[t]he bottom line is that your communication skills will either add to or detract from your power base (p. 212).
Proper grammar and a diverse vocabulary when speaking must be used if the paralegal want to be successful in the legal field. When discussing complex legal concepts with clients, witnesses and/or colleagues, slang and general words or phrases should be avoided at all costs because all oral communication should be as concise as possible (Schneider, 2006). By becoming an avid reader, a paralegal can improve their vocabulary professionally (Bell, 2014). The successful paralegal knows when the conversation should be more professional than conversational. Third, the skill of listening must be developed. Most of the information provided to the lawyers, clients, witnesses or the opposing council comes via oral communication—and since the paralegal provides this information in each case or circumstance, he or she must possess attentive and effective listening skills (Schneider, 2006). Attentive listening consists of two different techniques: active and passive. Active listening is conveyed through nodding and making eye contact—acting as feedback—letting the speaker know the listener understood what was said. Passive listening, however, is when the speaker is reassured the listener was actually listening by the feedback provided. When establishing a connection with the speaker, active and passive listening skills…