Listening and the Law: The Unspoken Word

Listening and the Law: The Unspoken Word

I was at a great criminal defence lawyers’ conference earlier this month, listening to some of the finest members of my profession offer advice and new techniques to help us better fight for our clients. The information that was shared was excellent and thought-provoking. And, as so happens at these things, some of what was said triggered other ideas, and reminders for me of skills that are important, and sometimes under-utilized.

One of those skills is listening, something that I occasionally think is a lost art.

In life-before-law school I used to teach communications, and focused on listening. I said then, and still believe that true listening is the key to really effective communication. It’s more than just listening to what’s being said – of equal importance is listening to what is NOT being said, what I refer to as “listening between the lines.”

When I meet with clients I want to really hear what the client is saying – and what is being left out. It’s surprising how often the important information remains unsaid, unless I hear what is being left between the lines, and ask the questions that will bring it out.

When people think of lawyers they usually think of us as people who speak for a living. That is true. But we also listen for a living. Because unless we have truly heard what our clients have said to us, truly heard what they need from us, we cannot truly advocate on their behalf.

The better listeners we are, the better we can fight for our clients, and the better we can frame the arguments that will make the judges listen to us.

Ruth Roberts, Criminal Defence Lawyer

Bonn Law, Trenton/Belleville, ON