I use NetNewsWire to read my RSS feeds and I read a variety of different blogs, some of which include other attorneys’ blogs. One of my favorite blogs is Dan Harris’s China Law Blog. I read a recent post wherein he discusses a post from another blog which outlines “The Fromm Six”, six competencies that Leonard Fromm had boiled down that make a good lawyers. Fromm came up with these six competencies to becoming a good lawyer after decades of serving as the Dean of Indiana Law. Below I would like to discuss my short thoughts on each of these six competencies.
Active Listening – The ability to fully comprehend information presented by others through careful monitoring of words spoken, voice inflections, para‐linguistic statements, and non‐verbal cues. Although that seems obvious , the number of lawyers and law students who are poor listeners suggests the need for better development of this skill. It requires intense concentration and discipline. Smart technology devices have developed a very quick mode of “listening” to others. Preoccupation with those devices makes it very challenging to give proper weight and attention to face‐to‐face interactions. Exhibiting weak listening skills with your colleagues/classmates/clients might also mean that they will not get to the point of telling you what they really want to say. Thus, you miss the whole import of what the message was to be.
Active listening is more difficult than many people would suspect. Too often we get a thought in our head and we want to say it out loud but we don’t want to lose that thought so we concentrate on holding that thought and wait for the opportune time to say it rather than listening to the rest of what that person is saying.
Questioning – The art and skill of knowing when and how to ask for information. Questions can be of various types, each type having different goals. Inquiries can be broad or narrow, non‐leading to leading. They can follow a direct funnel or an inverted funnel approach. A questioner can probe to follow up primary questions and to remedy inadequate responses. Probes can range from encouraging more discussion, to asking for elaboration on a point, to even being silent. Developing this skill also requires controlling one’s own need to talk and control the conversation.
This skill is especially important not just when putting someone on the stand but also when deposing someone or asking questions at a judgment debtor’s exam. You really have to know how to ask the follow up questions because frequently witnesses will only give enough information as they have to in order to answer the question. That information is rarely enough for your own purposes.
Empathy– Sensing and perceiving what others are feeling, being able to see their perspective, and cultivating a rapport and connection. To do the latter effectively, you must communicate that understanding back to the other person by articulating accurately their feelings. They then will know that you have listened accurately, that you understand, and that you care. Basic trust and respect can then ensue.
Law is not Radiology. Lawyers do not sit behind a desk and just read all day long. We work with people! Trust is an essential element in the attorney/client relationship. Clients must get the sense that you understand and that you care.
Communicating/Presenting –The ability to assertively present compelling arguments respectfully and sell one’s ideas to others. It also means knowing how to speak clearly and with a style that promotes accurate and complete listening. As a professional, communicating means persuading and influencing effectively in a situation without damaging the potential relationship. Being able to express strong feelings and emotions appropriately in a manner that does not derail the communication is also important.
Again, like Active Listening, this is more difficult than many would expect. Attorneys must take in large amounts of information, synthesize that information, fit that information into a legal framework, and then be able to communicate that information in that legal framework through writing and speaking. It’s not easy and attorneys are constantly tweaking and fine-tuning the way they present.
Resilience –The ability to deal with difficult situations calmly and cope effectively with stress; to be capable of bouncing back from or adjusting to challenges and change; to be able to learn from your failures, rejections, feedback and criticism, as well as disappointments beyond your control. Being resilient and stress hardy also implies an optimistic and positive outlook, one that enables you to absorb the impact of the event, recover within a reasonable amount of time, and to incorporate relevant lessons from the event.
None of these competencies are easy to acquire but in my opinion Resilience is the most difficult of the six. Why do I think that you may ask? There are many difficult and stressful jobs out there. Being an attorney is one of those. We deal with problems that greatly affect our clients’ lives. People lose sleep over their legal problems. So do their attorneys. Attorneys must manage our clients expectations because we “know” the legal system and they don’t. But I will tell you that the legal field is fraught with uncertainty and that includes lawyers. Dealing with clients, judges, and other attorneys is stressful. The ability to be Resilient and being able to pull yourself out of these situations and recover without being bogged down is an invaluable skill as an attorney.