Effective listening is crucial to establishing rapport with clients, witnesses, and anyone, really. But effective listening also contributes to lawyers’ analysis, strategy, and future workload in several concrete ways.
1. Listening Contributes to Case Analysis and Strategy
Listening is a complex act that entails simultaneous hearing, processing, decision-making about whether and when to speak, memory, prioritization, and reiterations of all of the above. The act of listening is deeply intertwined with thinking and learning. Is someone a “quick study”? That’s a great compliment, and a major factor in being a “quick study” is effective listening.
A lawyer who is able to listen effectively and consistently during long meetings and lengthy testimony will have a head start on case analysis. Identifying potential issues, categorizing relevant knowns and unknowns, prioritizing next steps: all of these analytical and strategic tasks are greatly aided by effective listening.
2. Listening Helps Avoid Nasty Surprises Later
Surprises are unavoidable in law practice. What is so frustrating is when—after a witness has flailed on the stand or a client has suddenly found documents that should have been produced earlier—the lawyer recalls something that was said, foreshadowing the exact event now happening.
Effective listening is spontaneous listening, not robotically tied to an outline or checklist.
And spontaneous listening allows the lawyer to make adjustments and veer off script when the lawyer hears something that isn’t quite right. Carefully listening for potential surprises allows the lawyer to ask better questions and listen with more focus to the specific answers. It’s a virtuous cycle that minimizes the risk of later surprise.
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