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For any young legal professional, bridging the gap between ‘legal speak’ and ‘commercial speak’ is bit of a conundrum.
There are many pressures imposed on the in-house lawyer’s role. One day, you’re influencing the board, managing the eco-system of legal services and making technology-driven decisions. The next, you’re educating senior leaders and being a true business partner and strategist for the company.
In these interweaving cultures between business strategy, and legal counsel, communication can get easily lost.
In many cases, effective communication can be the deciding factor between success or failure. Even for highly experienced professionals, it is simply not easy to be advising on law and strategy at the same time – not to mention mergers and acquisitions, and the many other manifestations of the work of a legal counsel.
So how do you understand these differences, and prepare to excel as a business person and a legal professional? We have prepared a few points to help you get your head around effective communication skills in the business of law.
You will often hear in an organisation that commercial teams say their legal colleagues don’t understand them, and vice versa. This is largely because lawyers naturally speak in legal jargon, using words such as ‘indemnity’, ‘breach’, ‘act’ and so on. For a non-lawyer, these terms mean very little – and even less if they are used without the appropriate explanations, putting matters into a clear, concise commercial framework.
You could say that the language of the corporate world and the legal world have trouble ‘meshing’. This is because one is known for its brevity, whereas the other is known for its precision, and full explanations, with the research to back up every argument.
To stand out as an in-house lawyer, consider learning to creatively communicate your ideas and solutions, without getting into the in-depth legal conversations you might best used to having with your legal colleagues.
With every conversation in business, ideally you are looking to position, and sell, the commercial benefits of the legal team to the rest of the organisation. The way this can be achieved is by using concise, paired-back language, which explains issues from a commercial standpoint.
It might also be good to think about the risks of the different legal scenarios involved, how they might impact the person you are communicating with, and to what degree.
Initially, this might feel as if you are training yourself to think differently. However, it’s simply a different way of addressing the same problem. Before going into a meeting or conversation, think about how to explain issue, the risks, and how to mitigate against them, while thinking about the business issue first. Leave out any legal terms, and you have your perfectly framed argument!
For more information, see our LexisPSL international communications checklist. This short video also outlines what Chris Ancliff, General Counsel from Warner Music Group, thinks about what your commercial colleagues need from your communication style.
Lawyers in private practice firms often work on building strong influencing skills to help their clients understand different courses of action. In-house lawyers also need to influence their clients, it’s just that their clients are internal.
In order to really impact the business, keep in mind that every conversation you have is a way to persuade your client to your way of thinking. If it's done politely and with good humour, it always goes a long way.
Common pitfalls often include failing to get to the point from the outset during email exchanges. People generally have a short attention span, and even those who don’t, lack the time and inclination to want to read reams of words about something that could have been said in a couple of short paragraphs.
Therefore, keeping emails short and to the point will keep your audience attentive. If the matter is complex, it helps to attach the more detailed information needed, and either give your advice via a bullet point summary in the email or suggest a short meeting to follow-up and discuss.
You can view more points on written communication style in our in-depth practice note: How to improve our written communications
Perhaps also take the time to listen to the thoughts of Ben Staveley, who specialises in teaching legal professionals how to write more clearly and has some great insight. Listen to what he has to say about thinking about your audience and how we can make our writing come 'alive' here.
As part of the LexisNexis In-house Advisor module on LexisPSL, we have created a Junior Lawyer Development section, which is focussed entirely on training junior in-house lawyers.
Written with extensive insight taken from our own in-house lawyers, you will find a selection of practice notes, precedents and checklists designed to help upskill the in-house team, covering subjects such as: effective communication, influencing skills and global collaboration.
The module also included presentations we have put together as a practical training aids for new hires. Click to request a demo: Junior lawyer development toolkit.
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Amy is an established writer and researcher, having contributed to publications, such as The Law Society, LPM, City A.M. and Financial IT. Her role at LexisNexis UK involved leading content and thought leadership, as well as writing research reports, including "The Bellwether Report 2020, Covid-19: The next chapter" and "Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?"
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