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Bar News - October 18, 2013

Book Review: The Articulate Attorney: Public Speaking for Lawyers, by Brian Johnson and Marsha Hunter


Crown King Books, Second edition, June 2013, 208 pages

A recent poll of 318 employers conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities by Hart Research Associates found that 80 percent of respondents believe colleges should emphasize the teaching of effective oral communication, just behind critical thinking (82 percent) and problem solving (81 percent), and tied (80 percent) with written communication.

As a college mock trial coach who has worked with college undergraduates in applied public speaking for nearly 10 years, I didnít think that finding was surprising. My former "mockers," most of whom dramatically improved their public speaking as a result of their hard work, report that becoming effective public speakers helped them in the college classroom, law school (where Socratic method is still used), and all walks of life.

Though not without flaws, Articulate Attorney: Public Speaking for Lawyers, written by Brian Johnson and Marsha Hunter, deserves space on the bookshelves of all law students, young attorneys, and serious-minded veteran attorneys. It offers a practical, clear method for self-teaching public speaking to draw upon when we address teachers, fellow students, regulators, opposing counsel, clients, potential clients, and others. Johnson and Hunter focus on three elements: body, brain, and voice, as the keys to effective public speaking. The book offers a determinedly practical focus on the craft, with easy to understand descriptions, clear examples, good diagrams and useful checklists.

What I like best about the book is its determined emphasis on public speaking as a useful practical skill that can be acquired by all attorneys. As a student, I was most frustrated by teachers who said that important skills like writing and public speaking are "natural" to some, and cannot be mastered by others. As a teacher, I strive to convey the message that with hard work, we can learn to become effective communicators, even if we cannot become the next Suze Orman or Clarence Darrow. Johnson and Hunter are excellent allies in conveying that message.

The Articulate Attorney encourages the reader to believe that there is nothing magic about public speaking, once the elements of body, brain and voice are effectively harnessed. Even better, the authors offer a clear path for busy people to follow in developing this important skill. For instance, my students and I have struggled for years to formulate a clear set of guides about using the hands and hand gestures while speaking. Too much or too little hand movement can look distracting or weak, and at their worst, hand gestures (or the absence of them) can alienate an important audience. Johnson and Hunter provide 25 pages on that subject alone, in clear, concise terms with good examples and illustrations.

The book is not without drawbacks. Even though the book has helpful drawings to illustrate techniques of effective public speaking, I was surprised and disappointed to find that the book includes a disproportionately small percentage of illustrations that depict women using those skills. Finally, like all self-help books, this one will be worthless to anyone who just reads it and does not actively practice the techniques it offers.

At $25 and 167 pages of text (exclusive of appendices, index and authorsí biographies), however, The Articulate Attorney promises to be a bargain and an indispensable reference to readers willing to practice and apply the methods it lucidly describes.

Charles Putnam is an attorney and a clinical associate professor of justice studies at the University of New Hampshire.

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