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Effective communication: the difference between a good and a great in-house lawyer
Lawyers don’t necessarily see presentation skills as fundamental to their job, yet they are judged on them by the rest of the business. We talk to Kent Dreadon, previously Deputy General Counsel and Head of Legal at Telefónica UK Limited (which operates under the O2 brand in the UK) and now Group General Counsel at Ascential, about effective communication skills and how they determine the impact and influence that in-house lawyers have in a business.
How important are communication skills for in-house lawyers?
The real difference between being a great in-house lawyer and being a good one is not your technical legal skills (albeit important they are a given), but your ability to communicate advice effectively in various scenarios.
For example, you bump into a director in the corridor and have just two minutes to get a steer on something: how do you make the best use of that time without bamboozling them or making a fool of yourself? You’re in a leadership meeting listening to general chat: how do you earn respect as a leader when you’ve only got a tiny window to interject? In these scenarios, your communication needs to be short, sharp and clear. You need to present in an effective and interesting way so that you’re not just a boring lawyer who makes everyone’s eyes roll.
More often than not, the whole perception of a person going forward is based around how they perform in a very short space of time, for example in a 20-minute presentation or briefing. As a lawyer that’s terrifying because so many of us think that presenting isn’t our strength. Nonetheless, that’s how you’re being rated.
What have you done to address communication training needs in the legal team?
I was discussing this with our HR Business Partner who suggested unlocking some training budget to focus on communication skills. We’ve done that and it’s been rolled out to my direct reports. Everybody will have different challenges and different things they need to work on. The
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Since joining LexisNexis in 2009 Sophie has worked on developing our legal and business content for the in-house legal community. She also runs various networking and mentoring groups for in-house lawyers and works with schools to promote social mobility within the legal profession.
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