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Bar News - August 16, 2017

Opinion: Are You Communicating Effectively with People in Your Office?


New Zealand professional rugby footballer and Coach Brian McClennan once said, ďCommunication is what makes a team strong,Ē and I could not agree more. Clear and effective communication fosters the smooth and clean operation of a busy law practice.

Attorneys and paralegals share the goal of providing high-quality, efficient, and compassionate service to their clients. Keeping clear and open lines of communication between attorneys and paralegals is the only way to achieve that mission. This is crucial. Failures to communicate create opportunities for mistakes and missed deadlines. From my perspective as a paralegal, I offer a few tips for attorneys and paralegals to consider when starting a discussion in the office:

  1. If youíre uncertain, ask. I have yet to encounter someone who has been offended by being asked how to do something. Most people are happy to be asked, and they appreciate the concern with getting the job done right.
  2. Give detailed, clear directions. Each person has a different style or manner in which they like to receive information or have things done. To get what youíre looking for, try giving a clear and complete block of instruction with as many details as possible. Likewise, if you can get more accomplished with your instructions being presented in a different way, ask for it.
  3. If you ask a question, listen to the answer and take notes. One of my superiors in the military once told me, ďA piece of paper never forgets.Ē Itís true!
  4. Remember, weíre all human. Be kind. Sometimes we make mistakes that are simply oversights. It happens to everyone. In high stress situations, sometimes itís easy to get frustrated, but we must remember to be polite to one another.
  5. Build your team up. This is a big one. In our fast-paced, connected world, it is easy to jump online and give companies and products bad reviews. Donít forget to give positive reviews, too. Acknowledge those who do a good job. Whether itís your coworkers, your boss, the water delivery provider or cleaning service, when they do a good job, take a minute to communicate your appreciation to them. You will notice they will work harder for you and go the extra mile.
  6. Open the lines of communication. Ask your paralegal or attorney if there is anything you can do to help them and follow through on your offer. This builds trust and shows dependability.
  7. If you make a mistake, own it. Part of being a respectable adult is taking responsibility for your actions. Everyone makes mistakes, so when it happens, admit it, apologize, learn from it, and move on.

At our firm, this is the year of communication. All of the attorneys and paralegals have decided to each take a course focused on some form of communication and then come back and share our experiences with the rest of the team. We also meet each morning for an hour to prioritize our to-do lists, find out what each of the others may need, and how we can support one another. The investment of an hour of overhead to start the day off right, in a positive, supported way, is invaluable. A small amount of time each day goes a long way in ensuring proper communication.

Starting a conversation with the attorney or paralegal you work with about how the two of you work and communicate with each other could increase efficiency and improve results in your law practice. We spend a copious amount of time together at the workplace, so letís make sure we feel comfortable speaking to each other.

Effective communication can alleviate the likelihood of mistakes, anger, hurt feelings, missed deadlines and unsatisfied clientele. The best part? Itís free! It costs nothing to work toward listening more intently and expressing yourself more clearly.

Alycia Gelin-Burr

Alycia M. Gelin-Burr is a paralegal at the Law Office of Katherine J. Morneau in Nashua. She focuses on domestic relations matters, estate planning and Medicaid application preparation cases and can be reached at (603) 943-5647.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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