One of the keys to being an effective lawyer is speaking in plain English. In order to effectively represent a client, a lawyer needs to communicate in clear simple terms. I understand that it’s very important to do this with my clients, and it’s something that they appreciate. It doesn’t do anybody any good for me to have a “conversation” with my client if the client has no idea what I’m talking about because I use legalese and don’t explain things. While the lawyer carries out the marching orders, the client is the one who actually issues those orders. The lawyer is supposed to explain the legal issues, describe the client’s options, describe the risks associated with each of those options and also give the lawyer’s own recommendations and advice as to which path to choose. If I don’t do a good job with those things, my client won’t understand these important issues, and we’ll both suffer.
I think that one of the reasons my clients are satisfied with my services is because I have the ability, and I also put forth considerable effort, to take a very complicated legal subject and make it understandable to them. It’s something that many lawyers either can’t or won’t do. I think that some lawyers actually enjoy speaking way over their audiences’ heads because they think that it impresses people. While some might be impressed, I think most people look down on lawyers who do that.
While it’s important to speak plain English with clients, it’s absolutely necessary to do it with juries. Juries are made up of everyday people, and very few of them have any legal experience. They’re not going to understand a lawyer who stands up in front of them making a long-winded convoluted speech using ten-syllable words, and makes a long rambling rant. Instead, they’ll either be insulted, disappointed, angry, confused, or some combination of those things. None of those are good for the lawyer, or that lawyer’s client. If the jury doesn’t understand what the lawyer is saying, they’re not going to get the message the lawyer is sending. That message is always: “You should issue a verdict in favor of my client because . . ..” If that message doesn’t get through to the jurors, the client has no chance of winning and is sunk.
Instead, the lawyer must speak in a way that jurors understand. By the time the case goes to trial, the lawyer has been living with it for years. Because the lawyer’s so familiar with the facts, it’s easy to leave things out, assume things the jurors won’t assume, gloss over important things that seem obvious to the lawyer (but not to the jurors), or otherwise do a poor job of communicating. The lawyer should instead present things using plain English, and in a straightforward, chronological way. If the lawyer fails to do any of those things, the jurors will ignore the message and the client will lose.
I want to make it clear that I’m not saying the lawyer should either underestimate or “talk down to” the client or the jurors. That’s just as insulting. It’s important for lawyers to recognize that there’s a huge difference between ignorance and stupidity. I’m not stupid, but I admit that I’m very ignorant when it comes to many different subjects. For every subject that I know more than you about, I’m certain that there are many subjects that you know better than I do. One of the most intelligent clients I’ve ever had left school in 3rd grade. He was very smart (especially street-smart), but uneducated. There’s a big difference between those two things.
One of the most important factors in choosing a lawyer is selecting one who is an effective communicator. Clients of lawyers who communicate well are not just happier with their attorney. They’re also happier with the outcome of their case.